Los Angeles County Contemplates Charging Drivers for Using Freeways

Originally published May 31, 2023 10:00 am PDT

In a bid to manage traffic congestion, Los Angeles County, California, is contemplating a pilot project which could result in drivers being charged a fee for using busy freeways, according to a report from The Los Angeles Times.

This initiative aims to promote the use of public transportation, thereby reducing vehicular traffic.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is slated to release a comprehensive study this summer, laying out a plan akin to congestion pricing models used in cities such as London, Stockholm, and Singapore.

As the study has not yet been released, it is unclear how much each person will have to pay.

The transportation authority is considering three possible locations for this pilot project: a 16-mile stretch of the 10 Freeway connecting downtown and Santa Monica, downtown arterial streets and freeways, as well as the streets and freeways that link the San Fernando Valley to the L.A. Basin.

Mark Vallianatos, who is supervising the feasibility study at Metro, indicated that the finer points of the plan, such as pricing, technology involved, and projected revenue, are still being hashed out.

However, he anticipates that the agency will publicize its findings soon, leading up to a board vote in the coming year.

Vallianatos stated, “It’s really about making it easier for those who drive to get where they need to go faster, more reliably.”

The plan, which has been in the works for years, is seen as a way to allegedly improve air quality, provide smoother commutes, and increase revenue for the transportation authority.

The pilot project also intends to provide subsidies for low-income drivers and carpoolers, as well as funding for alternative means of transportation, reducing the reliance on solo driving.

Still, such a project might face resistance from drivers accustomed to toll-free roads and from their political representatives.

In the past, proposals similar to this one have sparked political opposition.

For example, a per-mile travel charge plan was quashed in San Diego, while in the Bay Area, a downtown congestion plan was scrapped post-pandemic due to a drop in city center traffic, although a similar study for major Bay Area freeways is ongoing.

On average, Angelenos spend about 95 hours each year stuck in traffic, reports transportation analytics firm Inrix.

However, doubts remain about the viability of the proposed plan.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry Commerce Assn, was quoted as saying, “We’re not talking ‘Lexus lanes’ here. We’re talking congestion pricing. Politically, I just don’t see how this happens. And, I don’t see it moving forward.”

He argued that charging for road use in and out of the San Fernando Valley might lead to traffic diversion into neighborhoods, potentially disadvantaging some businesses.

The concept was even deemed too politically volatile within Metro itself, leading agency Chief Executive Stephanie Wiggins to delay the release of findings prior to public meetings scheduled last year, especially given that it was an election season, The Times notes.

The contentious nature of the proposal has the project team strategizing ways to gather support, even as interest groups express concerns about potential ramifications, particularly for downtown businesses and low-income residents in a region already grappling with high housing costs.

Preliminary modeling didn’t factor in subsidies, but suggested the program could rake in substantial daily gross revenue of between $400,000 to $2.5 million.