Why a rush-hour commute could cost more. Transportation groups ask Lightfoot to consider ‘congestion pricing’

Transit advocates and public policy groups are asking Mayor Lori Lightfoot to consider imposing “congestion pricing” fees to help cut traffic in busy areas during rush hour.

In a letter to the mayor on Thursday, the groups also asked Lightfoot to restructure the city’s ride-share tax in a way that encourages people to use more pooled trips, rather than single-passenger rides. The letter calls on the administration to dedicate revenue raised from such fees to improving “sustainable” forms of transportation, including biking, walking and public transit.

The letter argued that the measures would both create a more equitable transportation system and improve the environment.

“Transportation is now the #1 cause of emissions in our nation, as well as in Illinois where more than half of carbon emissions from transportation come from the Chicago area,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by representatives of the Active Transportation Alliance, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the Shared-Use Mobility Center, transportation experts from DePaul University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and the Via ride-share service .

The letter recommends that single-passenger trips that start and finish in transit-rich areas during rush hour should come with a high fee, while shared trips to and from “transit deserts” and low-income areas should be exempted or have a much lower fee.

Chicago currently has a flat 72-cent per-ride tax on ride-shares, and proceeds go to the CTA.

The letter suggested that a congestion pricing program should account for the impact of all types of vehicles, including privately owned cars and commercial vehicles. It did not recommend a specific method of imposing congestion pricing, but encouraged the administration to study the matter.

Lightfoot’s transition document suggested exploring additional funding for transportation, including congestion pricing and a new Loop ride-share surcharge.

In a statement in response to the letter, Lightfoot’s office did not specifically mention congestion pricing but said her team was open to ideas.

“Mayor Lightfoot is committed to building a comprehensive and reliable transportation system that alleviates congestion, equitably serves Chicago’s residents and moves our city forward,” the statement said. “In the months ahead, she and her team will be reaching out and engaging with everyday Chicagoans, neighborhood groups, mobility experts and other stakeholders to listen to their needs and collaborate on developing fiscally responsible and environmentally sustainable solutions to our shared goals.”

Earlier this month, a Tribune analysis of city data found that almost half of Chicago’s millions of monthly ride-share trips are taking place in just a few wealthy, crowded and already transit-rich areas, including the Loop, the Near North Side, the Near West Side, Lakeview and West Town. Many of the drop-offs were concentrated in those areas too.

New York City plans to impose congestion pricing measures to alleviate traffic and raise money for transit, starting in 2021. The program will impose tolls on vehicles coming into certain parts of Manhattan. Other cities with congestion pricing programs include London, Singapore and Stockholm.

By Mary Wisniewski