Seattle is ‘clearly not ready’ for congestion tolling
The push for congestion tolling in Seattle continues to move forward, marked by the first phase of a city study to determine the best possible implementation. But is the city even prepared for the dramatic changes brought about by such a system?
“Clearly they’re not ready,” former Seattle land-use attorney Chuck Wolfe told KIRO Radio’s The Candy, Mike and Todd Show. Wolfe — who now resides in London — recently published a piece on Crosscut about the future of congestion tolling in Seattle.
A congestion pricing system would essentially enact tolls for drivers moving in, out, and around designated areas in the city. The problem for Seattle, though, is that the proverbial cart is going before the horse.
“(Seattle’s) preliminary report is all about equity — it almost presumes that some form of system is a fait accompli, and I think that’s the wrong way to go about it,” he said.
For Wolfe, comparing Seattle to cities that have successfully implemented congestion tolling, like London and Stockholm, is an apples and oranges discussion. That’s largely because Seattle has yet to implement the infrastructure needed to even support a tolling system.
“What I’ve learned … was the importance of a very robust transportation system before talking too seriously about congestion pricing,” he noted.
Seattle’s network of trains and buses is decades behind that of cities like London, that feature robust public transit alternatives to incentivize drivers off the roads.
Meanwhile, ST3’s Seattle transit expansion won’t be finished until at least 2035. Some have even proposed an early foray into ST4, that would potentially focus on giving the city its own subway system.
In terms of the here and now, Seattle has a long way to go, and many questions to answer. Alternatives to driving to help lower income workers avoid tolling are the backbone of successful congestion pricing systems.
“(London has) the underground, [and] there’s the overground, which is the old municipal trains that are now consolidated. There are three or four national rail systems. There are boats on the Thames, and it’s truly multi-modal now,” Wolfe described.
To that end, the future of congestion tolling in Seattle would lean heavily on improving its transit options. More than that, it would need to weigh the city’s own unique needs, rather than simply porting over someone else’s model.
“Seattle form of congestion pricing needs to be for Seattle, and its contextual circumstances,” said Wolfe.