My View: Congestion pricing as a traffic fix
If you drive on Portland's freeways during your commute, or really any time, you've experienced our stop-and-go traffic. And while population and job growth has been great for our economy, it's only made the traffic congestion worse: the number of hours of congestion on freeways increased by 13.6 percent from 2013 to 2015.
While we welcome economic growth, businesses and neighborhoods suffer from the traffic that accompanies it. Freight shipments slow to a crawl, local deliveries get delayed, and workers lose hours stuck in traffic. Plus, it's plain miserable. The cost of congestion averages $1,200 annually in wasted time and fuel for U.S. drivers and adds up to billions in losses for the nation's economy.
Just as worrying is the role of traffic in contributing to poor air quality here in Portland and climate disruption across the globe. After years of reducing carbon pollution in Oregon, pollution is rising again, mostly due to cars and trucks. This increase means Oregon will likely fall short of its 2020 carbon pollution reduction goal.
While Portland continues to invest in transit and biking infrastructure, these improvements haven't kept up with growing traffic. To reduce congestion, some have suggested that additional freeway capacity would address this problem. Major freeway infrastructure projects may have benefits, but years of research indicate that reducing traffic is not one of them. In addition, the capital projects included in the recent transportation bill are several years away from breaking ground.
Thankfully, the transportation bill also included another solution — one that is less expensive, quicker to implement, and easily adaptable to changing conditions: congestion pricing.
Congestion pricing incentivizes rush hour drivers to shift the time of their trip or seek alternative modes of transportation. According to the two most recent National Household Travel Surveys, more than half of rush hour drivers are not commuters; instead they are running errands, making social visits, and taking other non-work trips. By moving even 5 percent of those trips to off-peak hours, congestion pricing would free up road capacity. And if more people commute by bike, carpool, or transit, the gains would be even greater.
In cities around the globe, congestion pricing has a solid track record. In Stockholm, congestion declined 15 percent, in London 30 percent, and in Singapore 45 percent. These systems also reduced carbon emissions by 14-20 percent.
As we consider congestion pricing in Oregon, it must be equitable. Elected leaders will need to listen and learn how congestion pricing might impact low-income Oregonians, workers with fixed schedules, students, and those who already travel without a car. Solutions may include using congestion pricing revenue to reduce the costs of tolling for low-income families and improve transit service and make it less expensive.
To preserve Portland as great place to live and run a business as we continue to grow, we need to improve air quality, make it easier to get to work, and allow freight to move quickly through the city. With an emphasis on equity, congestion pricing has the greatest potential to meet these goals and improve our region's economy.
Luke Kanies is the founder of Puppet, a Portland-based software company. Office phone: 503-575-9775, 877-575-9775. Website: puppet.com