MPC applauds Chicago's first step toward congestion pricing - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC applauds Chicago's first step toward congestion pricing

The following article is a collaboration of MPC Associates Emily Tapia and Karin Sommer.

On February 8th, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that he is considering a plan to significantly change public parking in the city.  A major component of the plan involves installing digital machines at the city’s 36,161 metered spaces.  This technological upgrade would allow motorists to pay for parking using their cell phones and credit or debit cards, as well as give the city more dynamic control over the pricing of meter rates.  The proposal to outsource meter management to a private firm suggests that vendors explore congestion pricing mechanisms by altering rates to coincide with the times of day when there is peak parking demand.

Congestion pricing is a tool that is gaining popularity across the country and world as a way to ease traffic gridlock.  The tenet behind congestion pricing is simple: increase costs for service when there is the greatest demand to encourage users to seek alternatives.  For automobile travel, congestion pricing often refers to charging drivers who use the most crowded roads at rush-hour a higher fee than those who travel on alternate routes or during non-peak periods.

Mayor Daley’s parking plan applies the concept of congestion pricing to parking.  Motorists who park in heavily used areas – whether on the street or in public garages - during times of high demand would be charged a higher fee.

The most successful congestions pricing proposals also incorporate improved alternatives. For example, whenLondon first implemented cordon pricing for its central area in 2002, it simultaneously increased transit service by adding 1,000 additional buses. Chicago could enhance its proposal by increasing transit service.

Implementing a form of congestion pricing for parking in Chicago will contribute to a healthier city and produce benefits beyond congestion reduction.  For those with no other option than to drive, congestion pricing means fewer cars on the road and a faster commute time.  With traffic moving faster, city bus service is able to move more efficiently, easing the commute time for transit users.  Environmentally, congestion pricing results in cleaner air and lower fuel consumption of gas, as cars do not spend as much time idling in traffic or circling the block for parking.

Responses to the city’s Request for Qualifications are due March 14 and will be followed by a second round to select a high-bidder.  The city anticipates closing the deal in the third-quarter of this year. 



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