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8/4/2008
Federal Taxpayers Bankrolling San Francisco Congestion Tax Push
Federal taxpayers pay $160 million to impose new congestion taxes on San Francisco motorists.

San Francisco congestion
Each time drivers across the country fill up at a gas station, a small portion of the final sale price is going to fund the planning and implementation of a new tax on motorists in San Francisco, California. Later today the San Francisco County Transportation Authority will hold the latest in a series of "community discussions" to market a federally funded congestion pricing proposal that would electronically track and charge motorists each time they enter the city's downtown area.

"The potential for additional federal funds for implementation make it an opportune time to investigate the policy's applicability to San Francisco," the authority explains on its website.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) drew inspiration for his value pricing plan from London's outspoken socialist mayor, Ken Livingston, who first introduced the charge in 2003. Although London voters rejected Livingston at the ballot box earlier this year in favor of a candidate who pledged to scale back congestion charging, the Bay Area's plans are proceeding at full speed. By December the $1 million "San Francisco Mobility, Access and Pricing Study" bankrolled by the Federal Highway Administration will be complete. Taxpayers nationwide are also footing the bill for $159 million in grants currently being used to establish a variable toll system that charges drivers $2 to use Doyle Drive, the southern access to the Golden Gate Bridge.

With 532,000 automobile trips to the the downtown area each day, the city forecasts "substantial net revenues" for its plan to impose tolls on all entry points to the downtown area. These revenues will be used to further subsidize mass transit in accord with the city's existing "Transit First" policy which holds discouraging driving as a primary goal. Thus, authority documents explained that the purpose of charging is not to solve the congestion problem for drivers.

"Congestion should be managed, not eliminated," a 2007 Transit Authority report on the proposal stated.

The plan does promise minor congestion reduction and environmental benefits, but these results are drawn primarily from official Transport for London assessments of its own charging program. More recent, independent research calls into question these conclusions by suggesting that the London program has failed to reduce pollution and has increased congestion.

Ongoing development of the plan is being orchestrated by a "Stakeholder Task Force" of activist groups including the Sierra Club, Livable City, SF Bicycle Coalition, Senior Action Network, and Walk SF. No representatives of the motorists most affected by the plan have a significant role in the process. View a 2007 presentation on the congestion tax plan in a 2.3mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File San Francisco Mobility, Access and Pricing Study Presentation (San Francisco County Transportation Authority, 10/30/2007)

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