REGION — San Diego Association of Governments “5 Big Moves” has been the source of much discussion and debate, and SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata has proposed a full commitment to expanding the county’s transit system. He broke down his position on the strategies during a presentation at the July 23 Carlsbad City Council meeting.
Part of the plan is to explore all options including congestion pricing, which many elected officials, on the SANDAG board and otherwise, are already discussing.
Carlsbad Councilman Keith Blackburn said congestion pricing has taken on a life of its own, due to its name. He urged Ikhrata and the SANDAG staff to be detailed when discussing the matter.
“Just be sensitive to the fact that it has been a huge distraction for what you’re trying to get done,” he said,” because of all the misperceptions of what it might be.”
Several forms of congestion pricing are in operation throughout the world. London and Stockholm currently use a congestion charge in specific zones throughout those cities. New York will also implement congestion pricing in Manhattan in 2021, per the New York Times.
San Diego County has another form, with managed lanes on Interstate 15, which allow single-occupant vehicles voluntarily paying to use HOV lanes with ExpressPass and FasTrack passes. However, Ikhrata said SANDAG does not have the authority to implement congestion pricing as it must be passed through the state legislature.
“When we did I-15, we had to get the legislation,” he said. “The laws of the land just don’t allow us to arbitrarily approve it.”
Ikhrata said a London or Stockholm-style of congestion pricing would not be used as part of SANDAG’s plan; however, he is favor of keeping all options open.
Supervisor Jim Desmond said it could mean all cars on all roads could be charged for driving. Or vehicles on any lane on a highway, along major and secondary city and county arterial roadways could be charged.
Then, there is the matter of tracking and residents already paying several transportation taxes.
“It’s too broad, too vague and quite frankly, too early to consider another tax,” Desmond said. “You can only have so many lanes, but I think we should be investing in technology and autonomous vehicles and those types of things that make the roads more efficient.”
Ikhrata said SANDAG will research the potential for a managed system on highways and major arterials; although no decision regarding congestion pricing has been made.
The goal is to take at least 5% to 10% of single-occupant vehicles off the highway system and redirect those motorists to transit options as part of the “5 Big Moves.” However, Ikhrata said SANDAG cannot expect people to take transit if takes two to three hours to reach work or home, which is why building a robust transit system is critical to the future of the region.
“We don’t have a desire to start just charging,” he said. “We have to have an alternative first or else we are penalizing people.”
Councilwoman Cori Schumacher is in favor of keeping congestion pricing on the table. A motion by Supervisor Kristin Gaspar to remove congestion pricing from the proposal failed during the SANDAG meeting.
One pressing issue for supporters of congestion pricing is the flexibility to address state and federal mandates for greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, not meeting those goals could jeopardize future funding from those entities, Schumacher said.