Council explores downtown drive fee
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Charging motorists to drive into downtown Honolulu would be studied under a resolution offered in the City Council.
The measure by Councilman Charles Djou hopes to alleviate Oahu's traffic congestion.
Several City Council members are skeptical of the idea, saying it would penalize drivers, would not alleviate congestion and would cause a public uproar, while others say it is worth looking into.
The practice, called congestion pricing, has been adopted in Europe, but no U.S. city has implemented it. London and Stockholm, Sweden, charge motorists a daily fee for driving into downtown areas using cameras capturing license plates of vehicles entering the pay zones.
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Oahu motorists would have to pay a fee to drive into downtown Honolulu during rush hour under a City Council proposal for a study.
You are now entering the congestion charging zone
London was the first city to implement congestion pricing, charging motorists a fee to drive into downtown beginning in 2003 after intense public outcry. The Honolulu City Council is considering a study on the feasibility of implementing a similar system here. Here is how it works in London:
» Motorists pay about $16 a weekday to enter its "Congestion Charging Zone," which has recently expanded in its most congested areas.
» Motorists can pay online, at kiosks and even by sending text messages.
» Cameras monitors every entrance of the congestion zone, which records every license plate. If records show the driver has already paid or does not have to pay, the record is deleted. If not, the driver will receive a penalty charge.
Source: Mayor of London Web site
The Council's Transportation Committee took a look yesterday at a resolution asking the Hannemann administration to study congestion pricing, which has been implemented in London and examined in other U.S. cities to charge drivers entering a certain zone, usually in gridlocked downtown areas.
Councilman Charles Djou, who introduced the resolution about a year ago, said the city should at least study congestion pricing to see if it would help alleviate the gridlock during rush hour on the freeways.
"I want this to be used as more of a long-term planning tool for traffic alleviation. In my opinion, it's not all about rail," Djou said, referring to the city's proposed $4 billion elevated rail transit system running from Kapolei to Ala Moana, a project he opposes.
The other members of the City Council's Transportation Committee were less than enthusiastic about the idea, some saying that it would penalize drivers. Others expressed some support for moving forward to study congestion pricing.
"We should discuss these other types of solutions dealing with congestion," said Councilman Nestor Garcia, chairman of the Transportation and Public Works Committee. "Everyone seems to think we're only looking at rail, but I'm open-minded."
"I certainly don't want to face the public outcry when we raise anything like that," said Councilman Gary Okino. "It's very regressive. Only rich drivers would be able to afford this."
Wayne Yoshioka, city transportation director, said there are concerns with congestion pricing in Honolulu since there are no other major transportation alternatives aside from TheBus.
"To implement congestion pricing without alternatives would be very harmful, especially to those with low-income jobs," Yoshioka said.
Djou modeled the measure after London, the first city to adopt congestion pricing in 2003, charging drivers about $16 daily to drive into its most congested downtown areas during certain times of the day. The mayor of London boasts that congestion pricing reduces traffic, helps the environment and brings in millions of dollars in revenue, while critics argue it hurts businesses and motorists.
New York was the first U.S. city close to adopting congestion pricing after approving a similar plan, which was rejected by the New York Assembly earlier this year. Other places have also started studying congestion pricing, including San Francisco, Seattle and Connecticut.
Implementing congestion pricing in Honolulu would ultimately involve the state since many of the roads are its responsibility. Tammy Mori, spokeswoman for the state Transportation Department, said the discussion is "premature" since the state does not have the authority to charge tolls and has not been approached on this idea yet.
Yoshioka estimated a study to look into congestion pricing could cost as much as $500,000 and would not be complete for another two years because of funding reasons. Djou said if the study costs that much, it would not be worth it.
The Council committee withheld action on the measure yesterday while it waits for Yoshioka to report back next month on more precise estimates of the study's costs.