From Oregon Live: Portland City Council approved a plan Wednesday to study short-and-long-term strategies to charge people to use city streets, an effort intended to reduce congestion and curb carbon emissions as the region expects as many as 500,000 new residents by 2040.
The city will create a Pricing for Equitable Mobility task force to study and recommend potential road user fees – such as cordons, where drivers are charged to use certain streets in the city center or potentially more robust freeway tolls in the area. The task force will meet later this year and is expected to offer initial recommendations in summer 2020 and final recommendations in the spring of 2021.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the transportation bureau, said the city must take bold steps to try and get people out of their cars. “We are going the wrong direction on transportation,” she said, adding that 42% of Portland’s carbon emissions come from transportation sources. Portland and Multnomah County have the goal of transitioning 100% to renewable energy sources by 2050.
What strategies are on the table are still up for debate, but likely options include cordon pricing, a potential fee for Uber and Lyft fares, more demand-based parking pricing, and potentially a local fee to charge drivers based on how many miles they drive.
The vote comes nearly two years after the council urged the city to create a comprehensive congestion pricing and demand strategy. The Legislature in 2017 also kickstarted a plan to study whether and how to charge drivers on Interstate 5 and 205 in the Portland area. The state has since applied for tolling approval from the federal government.
Advocates like Jillian Detweiler, executive director of the nonprofit transportation organization The Street Trust, said the city already knew what it must do – and that’s offer incentives to get people out of cars and onto bikes or transit.
“This can’t wait,” she said of the pricing plan, adding it took 20 months to get to the point of creating a task force. Other supporters urged the city to act sooner, saying growing traffic congestion poses a health risk to young people here.
The task force is expected to include diverse voices from transit-dependent groups and organizations representing communities of color, folks who, city officials say, already shoulder an undue burden in commuting times because they’ve been forced to relocate to farther flung neighborhoods.
Chris Warner, Portland’s transportation director, said the city was seeing an increase in carbon emissions in recent years, not a decrease. Those emissions rose 6.4% last year, Warner said, and are up 8% since 1990.
“We have to reduce the amount we drive alone,” he told the council. Portland hopes its alliance with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Climate Challenge, of which it is one of 25 cities chosen, will help the city “augment and accelerate” it’s near-term climate reduction goals.
Portland has studied how other major cities — like London, Stockholm and Singapore — have started charging drivers to use city roads or drive into sections of the city.
Charging people to drive works, according to the city’s research. But it’s important to have a solid plan in place, access to transit and tailor the pricing strategy to the region.
Portland’s challenge is intensified because unlike many other larger cities, the bulk of commuters who drive alone into downtown and close-in neighborhoods for work in the Rose City aren’t wealthy. PBOT officials said 65% of peak car commuters in Portland are medium or low-income, so finding out how to charge users to drive is a tricky issue.
Noah Siegel, PBOT’s interim deputy director, said Portland couldn’t make whatever fees it settles on for drivers punitive. “It’s really about freeing people from sitting in traffic in their cars,” he told the council.
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