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Why is Uber pushing so hard for congestion tolling in Seattle?

Rideshare giant Uber continues its push for congestion tolling in Seattle. (AP)

As part of its push for congestion tolling across the United States, Uber commissioned its own study related to the system’s possible implementation in Seattle. So, why is the company investing resources in what’s proven to be a controversial issue?

Congestion tolling should be based on why you’re driving downtown

“We commissioned this report as part of our effort announced in September to advocate for sustainable mobility policies and support cities that take bold steps to address their transportation challenges,” Uber Head of Global Policy for Public Transportation Chris Pangilinan said in a news release.

Back in late-2018, Uber announced that it would spend $10 million over the next three years to push various transportation-related policies in a handful of major cities, including congestion pricing. According to The Seattle Times, the company even spent upwards of $350,000 in New York on “ads and phone calls” to promote the city’s own push for congestion pricing.

Its recently-commissioned study on Seattle is part of that larger campaign.

The study was conducted by ECONorthwest, a consulting firm that specializes in “analyses that strengthen policy and investment decisions.” Its report claims that congestion tolling in Seattle would reduce travel times “up to 30 percent during the morning and afternoon commutes,” while providing upwards of $130 million in total gross revenue.

“This paper is intended to help advance the discussion of how congestion pricing could reduce traffic congestion in Seattle and deliver significant benefits to all people who need to travel downtown,” Pangilinan said.

Whether Uber has ulterior motives for pouring so many resources into congestion tolling remains purely speculative. That said, a system where people feel inclined to ditch their cars in favor of offerings like UberPool would certainly be good for business.

SDOT unveils early research on congestion tolling in Seattle

Back in 2017, it was reported that UberPool was losing the company over $1 million a week, in an effort to overtake Lyft’s similar “Lyft Line” option in San Francisco. Fast forward to 2019, The Washington Post points out, “industry competition appears to be waning.”

“Historically we have priced POOL very aggressively in order to create [the] opportunity to match,” Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi told the Post. “Now the majority of the work is improving our matching opportunities.”

The future of congestion pricing in Seattle is still very much in the air, but the city continues to seriously consider it as an option for relieving a constantly-growing traffic problem.

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