An Open Letter To C40 Mayors: How Road Pricing Can Change Your Cities

As the C40 group of mayors meet in Copenhagen this week, you’ll be discussing what key actions will help you deliver on the Paris Agreement’s commitments and how your leadership can result in a prosperous carbon neutral economy and equitable society. As you start these discussions, it’s important to take stock of what policies they, and other mayors around the world, can implement at the local level to drive us towards meeting these goals.

One of these policies is road pricing.

Why road pricing?

Current applications and research demonstrate that effective pricing policies can drive significant, positive impact in cities by reducing congestion, climate emissions and local air pollutants, and increasing the use of transit and active modes of transportation. Citizens and visitors breath cleaner air, don’t lose time and experience an improved quality of life, and businesses enjoy higher revenues from having active mode lanes nearby.

The path for reversing a car-centric urban space is challenging yet rewarding. Fortunately, there are already many good examples out there including location-based approaches such as central district tolling (e.g. New York City), time or demand based models such as congestion charging (e.g. London, Singapore, Stockholm, Milan), and emissions based policies (e.g. London ULEZ).

Cities who have implemented road pricing schemes already have seen some great results.

  • In London where the policy was implemented in 2003, traffic decreased by 15% and travel time decreased by 30%.
  • In Singapore, the pioneer of congestion charging policy, travel times decreased because travel speed has increased from 30/35 kph to 40/45 kph since the 1980s, despite an increase in population. The policy ensures greater equity in mobility costs and travel time and increases economic productivity.
  • In Stockholm, 197 new buses, 16 new bus routes, 2,800 new regional park-and-ride spaces and active mobility infrastructures were developed as part of the congestion pricing scheme. Coordinating these efforts maximizes long-term sustainability impact.

However, it is important to design road pricing policies carefully in order to enhance the environmental and societal benefits and take full advantage of emerging new mobility technologies. Road pricing policies in urban areas can take several forms and you can design the methods that best fit your city.

Below are five ways mayors can make sure their road pricing approach is most effective for their cities:

First, ensure the policy is serving the long-term vision for mobility, its design should reflect key mobility principles established by the city.

For example, the Shared Mobility Principles, adopted by cities and transport agencies around the world, includes prioritization of people over vehicles, the promotion of equity, and engagement with stakeholders.

Second, implement road pricing policies that establish a level playing field on which all vehicles are regulated.

To tackle environmental and societal issues stemming from mobility at their core, the cost of driving a vehicle ultimately needs to reflect its cost to our cities. By charging a fee for all vehicles (private motorists, delivery vehicles, taxis, and new mobility technology platforms), road pricing creates an incentive for everyone to share space more efficiently. Policies that exempt large numbers of vehicles incentivize more travel. For instance, schemes that target only certain mobility options or that exempt certain vehicles like taxi fleets or private car owners (as some cities have done)  may incentivize more travel in higher emission, lower efficiency cars. Charging fair fees to all types of vehicles is critical.

Third, to the greatest extent possible road pricing schemes should reward higher-occupancy trips and lower emissions mobility.

When priced significantly lower than more polluting, single-occupant modes, road pricing policies can lead to the significant shift from private cars to more sustainable mobility. While typical road pricing policies can naturally encourage higher occupancy per car offering multiplied incentives to those modes that increase seat occupancy – especially technology enabled platforms that can pool parties – helps to spur market innovation for sustained, future higher occupancy mobility. On a passenger-mile basis, one person in a 50 miles-per gallon hybrid car can have the same emissions profile as two people in a 25 miles-per gallon car. Similarly, extending outsized incentives for ultra-low (e.g. high fuel economy hybrids) and zero tail-pipe emission (e.g. full battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell) vehicles rewards market innovations that drive sustainable mobility. Taken together, these shifts can increase the options for high efficiency modes on an emissions per passenger-mile/kilometer basis.

Fourth, funds collected through the policy should be channeled toward infrastructure improvements supporting high efficiency, shared and active modes of mobility.

These funds should support “first/last mile” services, shared active and micromobility (such as walking, bikes, scooters, and mopeds), urban fast-charging for shared use EVs, microtransit including shuttles, and pooled on-demand services. First mile options play a critical role in commuters’ ability to access transit and leave their cars at home, and should be diverse and cater for different needs. When appropriate, convenient and cost-effective access to micro-mobility and active mobility options should be enabled, and on-demand shuttles and pooled rides to and from key transit lines should be made feasible. Should commute modes have reasonable availability of fast charging at key locations, first and last mile commute can be zero tailpipe emissions. These require agile planning, in which private and public actors co-design a seamless system that can serve all commuters while delivering sustainable mobility in which people ate at the center instead of vehicles.

Fifth, any road pricing program should feature strategies to improve equity in transportation.

Transportation equity implies that all communities – including low-income, communities of color, immigrant communities, or individuals with disabilities – have adequate access to affordable transportation options and are not disproportionately affected by new transportation investments.

Transportation equity is an on-going problem, especially as the proximity of jobs to high-poverty communities has declined rapidly since 2000. Implemented correctly, a road pricing program can promote equity instead of serving as a regressive fee on the most vulnerable residents. To promote equitable outcomes the program should: (1) Engage community members, especially vulnerable populations, in the process of developing a road pricing program, (2) Offer affordable alternatives to the charging system for qualifying vulnerable populations, such as free or discounted transponders and caps, discounts or exemptions for tolls, and (3) Use program revenues to improve transit service and bicycle and pedestrian networks, prioritizing routes in marginalized communities.

The opportunity to address road-transport hazardous emissions and incentive shared rides and multi modal mobility, can bring a city one step further towards an inclusive, equitable, and clean mobility for all. We appreciate that Singapore, London, Stockholm and Milan have already adopted the policy, that NYC and state of Israel are drafting central district tolling policy, and cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles are considering adoption of new road pricing policies.

New technologies now allow cities to establish dynamic pricing schemes with variable fees much more easily that was true even a few years ago. As a global coalition comprised of researchers, new mobility providers and advocates, we wish to support the generation and exchange of information useful for maximizing the positive impacts of this valuable policy instrument. If designed right, road pricing can place your city on the path to clean and equitable human-centric mobility systems.

Sincerely yours,

Adam Gromis, Global Sustainability Lead, Uber

Amitai Bin-Nun, PhD., Vice President, Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility Innovation at Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE)

Andrei Greenawalt, Head of Public Policy, Via

Prof. Austin Brown, Executive Director, Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy, UC Davis, UC Davis

Daizong Liu, China Sustainable Cities Program Director and China Transport Program Director, WRI

Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General, Polis – Cities and Regions for Transport Innovation

Lilly Shoup, AICP, Senior Director of Policy and Partnerships, Lyft

Maya Ben Dror, PhD., Future Mobility Projects Lead, World Economic Forum

Dr. Nicolò Daina, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London

Ori Yogev, Founder and Chairman, Future Mobility IL

Prof. Wolfgang Ketter, Chaired Professor of Information Systems at the Faculty of Management, Economics, and Social Sciences, and Director of the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne

On behalf of the World Economic Forum’s Global New Mobility Coalition