Refresher: What is Congestion Pricing?

There seems to be some confusion by both friends and foes of congestion pricing as to what it actually is. "Congestion pricing" is a term of art that refers to congestion tolls, road pricing or road tolling or other road user fees. It is a concept distinct from charging for parking. The foremost expert on charging more for on-street parking, UCLA professor Donald Shoup, explains as much in the "Congestion Pricing" section of his book The Cost of Free Parking. But if Shoup is not enough, the USDOT's Federal Highway Administration has provided a handy web site containing its definition of congestion pricing. Since the USDOT has promised NYC $354.5 million if it adopts a congestion pricing scheme covering the Central Business District of Manhattan, the agency's definition of congestion pricing matters.

Here is what USDOT/FHWA says.

There are four main types of pricing strategies

Variably priced lanes, involving variable tolls on separated lanes within a highway, such as Express Toll Lanes or HOT Lanes, i.e. High Occupancy Toll lanes

Variable tolls on entire roadways - both on toll roads and bridges, as well as on existing toll-free facilities during rush hours

Cordon charges - either variable or fixed charges to drive within or into a congested area within a city

Area-wide charges - per-mile charges on all roads within an area that may vary by level of congestion

The U.S. DOT's Congestion Relief Initiative, of which the Urban Partnership agreement is part, is aimed at promoting congestion pricing and specifically refers to tolling rather than parking. It further focuses the above tolling programs toward the overall goal of relieving congestion.

All of the five cities selected for the congestion initiative are centered around road pricing, though New York's is by far the most ambitious. Miami and Minneapolis propose building tolled HOT lanes on area highways and San Francisco proposes a new toll cordon on Doyle Drive or variable pricing on the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco also includes a value parking program in addition to new tolls.