Congestion on the streets and highways of Philadelphia is bad and getting worse. The city has the ninth-worst congestion in the country, and Philadelphians spend 112 hours a year — almost five full days — tangled up in traffic, according to a recent report by INRIX Inc.
At times, it’s faster to cross Center City by foot than to take a bus during rush hour. The most direct way to reduce congestion is to reduce the number of cars on the street and have more people use public transportation.aaaa
But funding for public transportation is under threat.
SEPTA relies on revenue from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and those tolls are the subject of litigation. A group of business leaders and public officials released a report this week detailing options for new transportation revenue — mostly through taxes.
One intriguing solution mentioned in the report is congestion pricing, a fee imposed on cars that usually changes throughout the day to discourage vehicle use during the busiest times. The report explored imposing congestion pricing via highway tolls. But in New York City, an urban version is underway.
On Sunday, New York state approved a budget that allows New York City to move forward on a plan for congestion pricing on cars entering downtown and midtown Manhattan. NYC plans to start congestion pricing in 2021. The fee is expected to be at least $10 and estimated to generate $1 billion to improve public transportation.
According to his office, although Mayor Jim Kenney isn’t currently in favor of congestion pricing, the Office of Transportation Infrastructure plans to follow the data that come out of New York. We urge the office to pay close attention, and for the mayor to revisit this option.
Meanwhile, there are alternatives that could help.
It is cheap to park in Philadelphia. The permit for the first car per household is $35 a year. The per-car fee cost goes up, capping at $100 a year for a household’s fourth or more car. That’s ridiculously generous. A SEPTA monthly TransPass costs $96 every month — almost $1,200 a year for one person.
Philadelphia should consider increasing the costs of resident parking permits to raise transportation funding and encourage public transit use. The city could also follow the lead of San Francisco and implement dynamic parking pricing, which means that the cost of metered parking changes depending on demand. A pilot program in San Francisco found that areas with dynamic parking saw a 40 percent reduction in circling to search for parking. Revenue from the more expensive permits and street parking could go toward improving the quality of public transportation.
Unlike other solutions — such as imposing new taxes on car owners — that would require Harrisburg’s blessing, parking costs can be changed through legislation in City Council.
As Philadelphia’s Center City continues to grow economically, congestion will get worse. The only sustainable solution is to have more people using public transportation. Hopefully, when it comes to transportation policy, gridlock in City Council won’t be as bad as gridlock in Center City.