San Francisco mulling ‘congestion tax’ on drivers based on income

Ronald Reagan once said, “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

Well, now Democrats in San Francisco certainly embrace the notion that if it moves, tax it, as they’re entertaining the idea of initiating a tax on drivers in congested parts of the downtown area, according to Fox Business.

With traffic increasing now that the city has largely reopened from the pandemic, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority has launched a study into a so-called “congestion pricing” plan, the network reported.

The plan would have to be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the California state legislature, both controlled by Democrats, and it would likely take three to five years to come to fruition.

One provision is that the tax would be income-based, with low-income drivers being exempt altogether.

Here’s more from Fox Business:

The authority’s Downtown Congestion Pricing Study team is still weighing different options, but all three of the scenarios currently being considered would charge a $6.50 fee to enter the congested pricing zones during weekday rush hours for folks who make $100,000 or more, with discounts for lower-income individuals, drivers with disabilities, and people who live in the areas impacted. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that commuters making less than $46,000 would not pay a fee at all.

San Francisco has been mulling the congestion tax for years, and last studied the issue in 2010. Officials decided to launch another study on the prospect in 2019 when the city hit its congestion peak. While congestion all but disappeared in the city after the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the SFCTA says traffic is picking up again and they want to be ahead of it.

 

The plan appears to accept the belief that a tax is punitive, as proponents say it will reduce traffic jams because there’ll be fewer vehicles on the road. In addition, given that San Francisco is a liberal mecca, there’s a climate change factor. Fewer vehicles would mean a reduction in emissions and less air pollution.

As noted in the article, San Francisco’s downtown area is still recovering from the pandemic lockdown and offices sit empty with some residents still working remotely.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the downtown area “neared its breaking point” prior to the pandemic. Still, not all are on board.

Wendy Silvani, manager of the Mission Bay Transportation Management Association, told the newspaper that better transit options need to be in place before “congestion pricing” is considered. She also argued that it may be premature to impose such fees amid the recovery.

“This is kind of the wrong time” to be considering congestion pricing, Silvani said. “The parameters are changing, and we don’t know yet how they’re changing. And it’s going to be a while before we do know.”

There’s also a concern about the impact on tourism — after all, they already have to negotiate a downtown full of homeless people defecating in the streets, drug addicts OD-ing, and rampant crime.

“As a visitor and as someone who regularly comes here to see the sights, and to eat at restaurants and just to walk around and have fun, knowing that I have to spend money on everything else… really would maybe kind of drive me away,” Ben Flores told KPIX, when asked about the plan. “And if not me I’m sure other families.”

Other Democrat-run enclaves are considering a congestion tax on drivers, according to the Chronicle, including Seattle and Los Angeles.

And we can thank the Europeans.

“New York will be the first in the nation to do it in 2023, joining Singapore, Stockholm and London, cities that have enforced congestion pricing for decades,” the newspaper reported.

Tom Tillison

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