Can road pricing make transit more equitable if income is used for free transit, walk and bike infrastructure improvements?

Can road pricing be used to make LA’s transportation system more equitable? By Rayla Bellis, SSTI, February 11th, 2019 Tags: 

California nonprofit TransForm and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently released new report and toolkit with guidance for bringing equity into the implementation of congestion pricing. While conversations about congestion pricing and equity often focus on minimizing the negative—reducing disproportionate impacts to low-income residents—the report authors argue a different paradigm: that pricing strategies can be used to improve the equity of transportation systems overall by harnessing the potential efficiencies to address systemic inequities.

The report is timely for the LA region. In late January, the Board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) opted to delay a proposal to explore congestion pricing options for the region, citing a need to weigh and address equity implications before moving forward. The Board approved a motion tasking Metro with developing an “equity strategy” for congestion pricing through consultation with experts and stakeholders before advancing further. TransForm’s and NRDC’s new report, Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity, could help provide some of the answers needed to move forward.

The Board made the decision to delay after considering a variety of financing strategies, including congestion pricing, for 28 projects that LA Metro aims to complete before the 2028 Olympics. Metro CEO Phil Washington had previously endorsed congestion pricing for Los Angeles in December, arguing that rush-hour tolls on drivers could fund free fares on public transit in the region and help accelerate those 28 projects. Metro is considering three pricing options:

  • cordon pricing, similar to London, Singapore, and Stockholm;
  • a vehicle mileage fee, similar to the road usage charge in Oregon and a California pilot project conducted in 2016-2017, and
  • a corridor charge applied to 10 heavily congested corridors.

The board’s decision reflects concerns from critics that pricing would penalize low-income workers in the region who rely on their cars to get to and perform their jobs, and that the region does not currently have the transit service needed to give all residents a viable alternative to driving.

Pricing Roads, Advancing Equity argues that congestion pricing can be equitable if equity considerations and meaningful engagement are made a central part of implementation from beginning to end. The report provides guidance and examples for achieving two types of equitable outcomes: “process equity,” or the full participation of vulnerable communities in the process, and “outcome equity,” which the report defines based on affordability, access to opportunities, and community health.

The authors also argue that the current system—free roads, with the inefficiencies, congestion, and pollution they bring—already perpetuates inequity and disproportionately harms vulnerable communities in ways that congestion pricing could help address. In Los Angeles, this means sitting in congestion that eats up an extra 100 hours each year on average, resulting in less time with families, fewer hours for business owners on service calls, and daycare late fees for parents with less flexible schedules, as NRDC notes.

Strategies recommended in the report include offering discounts and exemptions to low-income drivers and people with disabilities, as well as investing the revenue from congestion pricing into free or reduced-price transit and walking and biking infrastructure. While Virginia is using the revenues from the new variable tolling on I-66 in northern VA to fund new and expanded bus routes and bike share stations, no state has yet used revenue from road pricing to provide free transit, as LA Metro’s CEO has suggested. Discussions will resume when the full Metro board meets next on Feb. 28.

Rayla Bellis is a Program Manager at SSTI. 


Author: Stuart Cohen and Alan Hoffman, 2019 Download the full report and toolkit

Download the worksheet

Report cover imageAmerica’s transportation investments and policies have helped to create—and reinforce—racial and social inequities. Meanwhile, in response to worsening road congestion, inadequate transportation funding, and the dire threat of climate change, regions across North America have begun implementing road pricing on highways in the form of tolls and express lanes. A growing number of cities are now considering “congestion pricing” programs for their downtowns.

Equity issues are often analyzed as part of road pricing studies for good reason: road pricing programs can burden low-income drivers with new costs, just when skyrocketing housing costs are forcing some to move out of transit-rich urban centers and rely more on private vehicles. Unfortunately, most equity studies have focused more on minimizing negative and disproportionate impacts than on using pricing to improve the equity of the transportation system. It is time to change that frame. We need to use the potential efficiencies of road pricing to solve several problems at once, and redressing systemic inequities needs to be at the top of the list.

If equity concerns and deep community engagement help shape road pricing and associated investment strategies, they can lead to faster and more frequent public transit, safer pedestrian and bicycle routes, and improved mobility and health outcomes for vulnerable communities. Discounts and exemptions for low-income households can create progressive pricing structures. Road pricing programs can help make transportation systems more equitable than they are today.

The goal of this report and toolkit is to challenge policymakers and equity advocates to act on this key proposition: that structural inequities in our transportation system may be remedied in part by effective, equitable road pricing.

The report looks at examples from cities in North America and around the world that have implemented some form of road pricing. These international examples are especially relevant to North American cities, including New York, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, all of which are exploring downtown congestion pricing.

The report then examines a wide range of strategies to achieve equity outcomes, focused on affordability, access, and community health. It also looks at methods for achieving the full participation of vulnerable communities in the planning process.

Following the report is a companion toolkit, intended primarily for policy-makers and equity advocates who are actively considering a road pricing strategy. The toolkit may be useful to many audiences though, as it contains interesting and useful case studies and examples. Finally, TransForm has developed a stand-alone worksheet based on the toolkit so equity advocates can keep track of where they are in the process, and stay focused on planning and engaging.

We hope these documents offer a roadmap to ensure that vulnerable populations can derive real, tangible benefit from road pricing projects.

The goal of this report and toolkit is to challenge policymakers and equity advocates to act on this key proposition: that structural inequity in our transportation system may be remedied in part by effective, equitable road pricing.

As Public Transport Ridership Dwindles, L.A. Metro Offering Car-Sharing Service for Rides to Stations FEBRUARY 9, 2019, BY 

Angelenos can now make connections between metro station parking lots using a car-sharing app to rent and drive a car to the desired station, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a news release.

Users can find a nearby car, book it and unlock it through the app, with prices beginning at $5 per hour depending on the vehicle type, Metro said.

The new transportation feature is a result of a partnership between the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Getaround, a San Francisco-based car-sharing app, which is licensed to occupy 110 parking spaces at 27 L.A. Metro station lots.

L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair, Sheila Kuehl, called the new feature a ” win-win.”

“Getaround will help riders travel from their Metro station to their destination conveniently, while offering other Metro riders, whose cars go unused, an opportunity to make a little cash on the side,” Kuehl said.

The partnership comes as cities and their transportation agencies across the U.S. are seeing a decline in public transport ridership as ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft grow in popularity.

In L.A. County, more people have been buying cars than before, adding to a traffic congestion problem as car-ownership outpaced population growth, according to a study by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.

Between 2012 and 2016, California lost 62.2 million annual transit rides, the study said.

“We must continue to look for new and innovative ways to combat roadway congestion while providing smart ways for people to travel to and from our stations,” Metro CEO Phillip Washington said.

Every shared car takes about 10 vehicles out of gridlock, and every 1,000 vehicles shared alleviates up to 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide, according to the University of California Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

Metro said that if the new partnership with Getaround is successful, the agency may consider adding additional park-and-ride spots later this year.

The service is available at the following stations:

  • Expo Line: 17th Street/SMC Station, Expo/Bundy Station, Expo/Sepulveda Station, La Cienega/Jefferson Station.
  • Gold Line: Lincoln/Cypress Station, Heritage Square Station, Sierra Madre Villa Station.
  • Green Line: Redondo Beach Station, El Segundo Station, Aviation/LAX Station, Hawthorne/Lennox Station, Crenshaw Station, Vermont/Athens Station.
  • Orange Line: Sherman Way Station, Canoga Station, Pierce College Station, Reseda Station, Balboa Station, Sepulveda Station, Van Nuys Station.
  • Red Line: North Hollywood Station, Universal City Station, Westlake/MacArthur Station.
  • Blue Line: Artesia Station, Del Amo Station, Wardlow Station, Willow Station.

All the vehicles have collision and liability insurance for every trip, L.A. Metro said.

Residents interested in listing their cars to be shared through Getaround can visit

Metro Ties with Car Sharing Service