‘Free roads are not really free’: Can cities make congestion pricing equitable?

As cities look to congestion pricing to help unclog gridlocked streets, questions of who should be charged and how much they should pay are swirling.

New York City will be the first U.S. city to charge drivers a congestion toll — applicable in Manhattan’s business district below 60th Street — in late 2020 or early 2021 after years of debate. Meanwhile, the likes of Seattle and Los Angeles are in varying stages of studying their own plans. And in each city, there are a number of thoughts on how to administer the program and divvy up the funds raised.

Some have suggested that certain groups be exempt from a toll altogether, while others have advocated for a system of rebates and credits for low-income drivers. Questions of where the revenue from congestion pricing should be spent also come into discussions of equity, especially when considering investments in public transit, infrastructure or air quality improvements.