Congestion Pricing

Updated: May 23, 2019

Let’s talk about managing Seattle congestion in a fair and equitable way.

Peak time traffic congestion on southbound 5th Ave. Photo by Jeanne Clark.
Peak time traffic congestion on southbound 5th Ave. Photo by Jeanné Clark.

Seattle is rapidly changing and growing. 

Seattle has ranked among the top four major U.S. cities in growth for five consecutive years. Since 2010, over 100,000 people have moved here- and more are on the way. Seattle-area jobs are projected to grow 28 percent by 2035. This rapid growth will present some challenges, particularly when it comes to traffic and congestion. 

With the expected continued growth in residents and jobs, commutes will only get longer. Meanwhile, transportation is Seattle's greatest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions citywide. Several other cities worldwide have effectively used congestion pricing as a tool to shorten commutes and reduce carbon emissions.  

The City is in the early stages of gathering feedback, studying options, and using community perspectives to thoughtfully design a potential program that is equitable, transparent, and responsive to the city's needs.  

Exploring a range of solutions.

As a first step, the City started exploring congestion pricing to address traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create a more equitable transportation system. Congestion pricing is one strategy that cities around the world use to improve mobility by charging a fee or toll for single-occupancy vehicles to use specific downtown streets.  

This work will prioritize racial and social justice and explore how a pricing program might improve access to opportunity and reduce current inequities. The Seattle Congestion Pricing Study summary report includes highlights of our work to date, lessons other cities have learned, an initial analysis of different pricing tools, potential equity impacts, and next steps for future phases of work. 

Traffic on the street

What we know: In every case, congestion pricing has reduced vehicle trips, reduced CO2 emissions, & lowered travel times. 

Traffic on the I-5More than a dozen cities around the world have implemented or are seriously considering forms of congestion pricing, including London (U.K), New York City, San Francisco, Stockholm (Sweden), and Vancouver (B.C.).  

Cities with congestion pricing programs show clear results. Stockholm, London, and Milan (Italy) all saw a 30 percent reduction in traffic delays and greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 14 - 20 percent. Stockholm and London also saw positive economic benefits: Businesses in Stockholm and London saw an increase in sales after the change.  

Experiences in other cities also show us that they have successfully implemented congestion pricing by building on aggressive transportation demand management programs and that public and business acceptance typically rises dramatically post-implementation. 

The success of congestion pricing abroad has led to many North American cities exploring its potential here. While many are studying various different forms of congestion pricing, work in New York City, Vancouver, B.C., and Washington State is described in the Summary Report. 

We're committed to racial and social justice

The average Seattle household spends 15 percent of its budget on transportation. That percentage can skyrocket up to 30 percent for low-income households. Lower wage earners spend a disproportionately higher amount of time commuting and a higher percentage of their income on transportation costs.  

Meanwhile, approximately 66 percent of greenhouse gas emissions citywide come from road transportation in Seattle, with the worst air quality areas existing in historically underserved communities. Households with annual incomes less than $15,000 experience asthma at nearly two times the rate of households making more than $50,000.

Our neighbors facing the greatest barriers are also bearing the greatest burden of environmental damage. We will need to take decisive action to protect our communities and meet our citywide climate goals.

Helping our working families and the communities historically underserved by our transit system will be critical as Seattle studies how to mitigate growing congestion. As we continue to explore congestion pricing in Seattle, our intent is to advance equitable outcomes through community engagement that will guide the development of a fair pricing program. 

Potential pricing tools.

The Summary Report includes a comprehensive review of 11 pricing tools that have been used in other cities, including description & examples of each. To identify the most promising tools for further study, we screened the 11 tools based on four preliminary areas of focus (equity, climate and health, traffic congestion, and implementation) that align with our citywide goals.  

Based on our initial screening, we believe four tools have a greater potential to meaningfully influence the focus areas mentioned above and achieve our desired outcomes: cordon pricing, area pricing, fleet pricing, and a road usage charge. Details about all four tools are provided in the report.

All 11 tools screened are valuable and could be used (or used more extensively, in the case of parking pricing) by the City of Seattle to meet our goals. As we work closely with the community and stakeholders in the next phase of this study to refine our goals and desired outcomes, we may re-evaluate the larger set of tools or prioritize others for additional study. 

This study provides a starting point for discussions about what a pricing program might look like for Seattle.

This report is the beginning of a series of conversations and research around congestion pricing. As the City focuses on equity, more work will need to be done to prevent disproportionate impacts on historically underserved communities. In the next phase of the study, we will build a pricing model that allows us to take this high-level analysis and estimate the magnitude of impacts and benefits on specific areas and communities.  

Congestion pricing has the potential to provide benefits and address the negative impacts of growth. The City of Seattle will move forward with extensive community engagement with residents and stakeholders to find solutions that address congestion, mobility, climate protection, and the health of our City. 

Please stay engaged for upcoming opportunities to weigh in on this study and the future of congestion pricing in Seattle.  

Read the Seattle Congestion Pricing Study Phase 1 summary report.

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