HIZZONER 07: Fattah Floats Idea Of Erecting Invisible Toll Booths On Center City Streets To Cut Gridlock

BY MICHAEL CURRIE SHAFFER INQUIRER STAFF WRITER Mayoral candidate Chaka Fattah yesterday proposed examining a “congestion charge” that would require drivers to pay to bringpublictransit.gif their cars into traffic-clogged parts of central Philadelphia at peak hours. Fattah offered few specifics about what his plan would cost or just how it would be implemented. He said he hoped only to “study” the idea.

“We cannot have a city in which everyone expects to be able to drive their car everywhere they want to go,” Fattah said.

Fattah’s idea is modeled on a program that has slashed vehicular traffic and commute times in London since its introduction in 2003. Drivers of private cars pay the equivalent of $16 every day that they enter the central areas of the British capital between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. The roughly $176 million annual take is plowed into improving public transportation, which is how an estimated 90 percent of workers in the “charging zone” get to the office. In the English model, a series of 230 cameras posted around the area capture the license-plate numbers of cars entering the zone. Drivers must pay that same day via the Internet, mobile phone, or at post offices and selected stores. Fines are levied on those who don’t pay on time.

Residents of the charging zone as well as owners of hybrid cars are exempt from the British fee. In London, home to some of Europe’s worst traffic, the charge has been credited with reducing vehicle traffic by 30 percent and commute times by 15 percent. But it has also stirred controversy, with conservative legislators saying it has hampered city businesses. Foes use a more loaded word for the charge: they call it a tax.

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“A congestion tax is two steps ahead of the problem. Before Philadelphia resorts to such an extreme measure, it first needs to start seriously pumping up Septa and make mass transit the mode of choice. As part of that effort, the city should impose a moratorium on stand-alone garages, as well as limits on “accessory” garages in condo and office towers. Limiting the supply of parking is one way to increase the appeal of transit, although a lot else has to be done. If it takes those steps and the traffic still becomes unbearable, then Philadelphia might turn the conversation toward congestion taxes. But I doubt it will ever need to happen.”

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