As traffic volume continues to grow in the city, there have been rumblings from local officials about creating congestion charge zones for commuters. Yes, you’d have to potentially pay a fee to come into Buckhead, Midtown, Downtown or other heavy traffic areas.
This idea isn’t new. Driving into central London has cost suburban commuters since 2003, while Stockholm, Singapore and Milan have also adopted congestion pricing. In 2021, New York City will be the first American metropolis to implement the scheme, with motorists paying a predetermined fee to access Manhattan’s central business district.
In London, traffic has been reduced by a startling 30 percent. The reason might be because the charge is high: roughly $15 to drive into central London on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. The other reason is that London has an expansive subway system (London Underground, or “The Tube” as locals call it), robust bus service, commuter train lines, a fleet of taxis and more. It’s easier to get into the capital by public transport than driving. This is not the case in Atlanta.
While MARTA is gearing up for a big expansion, it’s decades away from having the connectivity needed to make drivers ditch their cars. Suburban counties, such as Gwinnett, will have to get on board with public transport expansion to end the growing gridlock on the metro’s interstates and roadways.
Making the city’s streets safer for pedestrians, bicycle riders and scooter users will have to be a priority, and so will eliminating the acres of parking lots and garages that make driving into the city so attractive.
Atlanta City Councilmember J.P. Matzigheit has commissioned a study, expected to wrap by the end of the year, to explore implementing a congestion tax. An unscientific poll recently posted on the Atlanta City Council Facebook page showed a majority of respondents were against the congestion charge (43 percent were in favor, 57 percent against).
I don’t think Atlanta is ready for the congestion charge, either. Until we have a more extensive train and bus network and the surrounding counties stop isolating themselves, a congestion charge would simply be a burden on commuters who are just trying to get to work.