San Mateo: We’ll Retaliate to Congestion Pricing with Congestion Pricing

In today’s San Mateo County Times, Mike Rosenburg brings us the news that “fuming” officials in San Mateo County are considering retaliating against San Francisco for studying congestion pricing, though their solution might seem counter-intuitive:

Instigating what one Peninsula politician said would be a “border war,” some San Mateo County officials said they would try to implement a toll to enter the county from the north during rush hour if San Francisco enacts a similar entrance fee for its city. The threat by Peninsula leaders is an effort to persuade San Francisco leaders to shelve their plan.

Finally, San Mateo County officials are talking some sense, though they probably don’t realize it. Assemblymember Jerry Hill goes on to say: “You will see a battle of tolls — everyone will try to out-toll the next jurisdiction to beat the one that started it. No one wants to see that.”

Wrong, Mr. Hill. That’s actually my fantasy.

Considering the astronomical toll that driving takes on our region (see the video above), wouldn’t this be an ideal world? Make driving expensive and build up a world-class sustainable transportation system in the Bay Area through congestion tolls. That’s exactly what the Bay Area will need to do to meet its obligations under California’s climate change and smart growth laws. Reduce driving. Reduce congestion. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve transit and make tolls competitive. Brilliant.

San Francisco is onto something, and now, so is San Mateo County.

  • Manish

    Perhaps San Mateo and San Francisco can jointly pay for the tolling mechanism at the San Francisco/San Mateo County border.

  • Joseph

    Excellent news! San Mateo officials’ motive may be misguided, but the end result is highly desirable. Too bad this isn’t what they had in mind, but if they follow through they will probably be thrilled with the results.

  • LS

    Tolls all around! Woo hoo!

  • Just raise the gax tax. How hard can it be, people.

  • patrick

    I love it!

    I’m actually not too excited about the congestion pricing since I think it’s unnecessary complex, but if it results in San Mateo county actually doing something that will discourage driving, I’m all for it.

  • It will be the first productive and totally beneficial war in history. When the smoke clears, there will livable cities as far as the eye can see.

    Call me a war hawk.

    Mirkarimi’s great on the issues, btw.

  • Andy Chow

    The intent of San Mateo County’s retaliation is to make driving too expensive that it would discourage people to do businesses in SF, thereby hurting SF’s economic bottom line.

    What’s lacking here is a plan to improve transit access. There’s a promise of more transit funding with congestion pricing, but nothing else.

    If the idea is to institute a fee/tax at the city limit, then what transit improvements would be made to provide an alternative to paying the fee? More Muni service to downtown doesn’t count, because most Muni lines don’t cross the city border. It would not be seen as equitable to charge someone going from Daly City to Stonestown or UCSF and use the fee to subsidize Richmond to downtown Muni bus.

    Although it is easier to plan transit for downtown to discourage downtown congestion than trying to plan for more cross border transit, it is possible. Most of those cross border transit improvements won’t be Muni. For example, SamTrans bus service to SF can be restored/improved (most of the commuter buses got canceled last year). SamTrans can also run buses to non-downtown locations in SF like UCSF. Caltrain service could be sustained and improved (free shuttles can be funded between 4th & King and Market). There can be fare discounts for Caltrain-to-BART trips to remove transfer penalty (technically possible with Clipper).

    I don’t think we have as good of a transit as in some cities that are planning and have instituted congestion pricing.

  • Caltrain is saved! Multiple congestion pricing boundaries will increase demand for Caltrain services, increasing political support for Caltrain, increasing financial support for Caltrain.

    Improvements in public transit come primarily by increasing demand first, not supply first. That’s why transit is best where driving is worst.

  • Andy –

    I agree that transit does have to be improved first so the options are there, and there was a mention of that. However, currently anyone who drives from the Peninsula can just as well drive to the BART station and take it into the city (if not take SamTrans to BART, as terrible as it is), or they can carpool or drive during less congested times and take different routes.

    Regarding carpooling, I hope they figure out a way to waive the fee for higher-occupancy vehicles, which doesn’t seem possible with license plate cameras. They should also address a way, like you said, to avoid charging people taking shorter, non-congested trips, but I think that’s what they mean to study. But that’s not so much an issue with the Northeast cordon concept, where you are more surely making a congestion-contributing trip.

  • Caltrain is saved! Multiple congestion pricing boundaries will increase demand for Caltrain services, increasing political support for Caltrain, increasing financial support for Caltrain.

    Improvements in public transit come primarily by increasing demand first, not supply first. That’s why transit is best where driving is worst. People need to want it themselves.

  • jd

    Andy, Caltrain already gets you into SF, and in case you hadn’t heard, a huge portion of their budget comes from the 3 counties through which it runs. And, starting last year, all those counties cut their budget to Caltrain, and so now Caltrain has a budget crisis and next summer will probably be cutting all trains oujtside commute hours. This is utterly ridiculous, but regardless, the funds raised from congestion pricing in both SF and San Mateo could be used to close Caltrain’s budget gap — hell, even improve Caltrain.

  • @jd – one could argue that San Mateo is bringing it upon itself. San Mateo County was the lynchpin to cutting Caltrain funding – they started it. Less Caltrain = more cars = more congestion = congestion pricing! Voila!

  • Judy Alias

    May be more profitable to charge a fee to LEAVE the county…

  • Three words: trial, trial, trial. This will be a lot closer to being ‘politically palatable’ if implemented as a trial. My guess is the NE cordon will also be easier to push forward then the county-based line. Remember, this has to pass the state legislature.

  • I count 76 streets that feed into the NE cordon. Maybe I am just confused about how this is supposed to work, but is the city seriously considering setting up 76 separate toll stations? Even if they were automated and unmanned, even if most people would be sensible enough to use a fast-track type transponder for payment, some percentage would only have cash, requiring a slow, cumbersome transaction. Or are we saying no one could drive in the NE quarter of the city unless they had a fast-track type transponder in their car? (Really?) Not to mention do we truly want to repair and maintain 76 fee collection stations that would certainly see their share of vandalism?

    I hate spending a lot of money on complex technology when simple measures, such as raising the gas tax, raising parking rates, taxing private parking spaces, and reducing available street parking would provide the same benefits and be faster to implement to boot. Take the revenues from these items and put them into transit, bicycle infrastructure, and a campaign that promotes “San Francisco loves you, but not your car.”

  • James Figone

    I’m with taomom. It will be at least 5 years before congestion pricing is implemented, if at all. There many effective, low-tech means for accomplishing at least part of the job now, without agonizingly long approval processes.

  • @ taomom,
    It wouldn’t be toll collection booths, but a combination of transponders and cameras to read license plates, like they do in London. There would be a facility where the match plates to drivers, but it would be far from any of the actual streets.

  • Sounds like the ideal solution for funding improved Caltrain service.

  • Congestion pricing, simple but unfair as long as the alternative (public transport)is in a poor state. TRAFFICLOGISICS is the system for the future, the PRIORIY of traffic groups during rush hours. See also:
    Knut Bøe

  • PaulCJr

    Maybe a revenue sharing plan could be drafted where some revenue created by the tolling system go to help Samtrans restore some of the most heavily used San Mateo to city bus lines. The San Mateo residents should also stop complaining as well. Since the study only quotes commute hours, those that don’t work in the city, but come here for entertainment will never pay the congestion pricing.

  • Mac

    Don’t worry everyone, I’m sure San Mateo County will find another way to mess it up. They are professionals.


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