Mayoral candidate Chaka Fattah yesterday proposed examining a "congestion charge" that would require drivers to pay to bring their cars into traffic-clogged parts of central Philadelphia at peak hours.
Fattah offered few specifics about what his plan would cost or just how it would be implemented. He said he hoped only to "study" the idea.
"We cannot have a city in which everyone expects to be able to drive their car everywhere they want to go," Fattah said.
Fattah's idea is modeled on a program that has slashed vehicular traffic and commute times in London since its introduction in 2003. Drivers of private cars pay the equivalent of $16 every day that they enter the central areas of the British capital between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The roughly $176 million annual take is plowed into improving public transportation, which is how an estimated 90 percent of workers in the "charging zone" get to the office.
In the English model, a series of 230 cameras posted around the area capture the license-plate numbers of cars entering the zone. Drivers must pay that same day via the Internet, mobile phone, or at post offices and selected stores. Fines are levied on those who don't pay on time.
Residents of the charging zone as well as owners of hybrid cars are exempt from the British fee.
In London, home to some of Europe's worst traffic, the charge has been credited with reducing vehicle traffic by 30 percent and commute times by 15 percent. But it has also stirred controversy, with conservative legislators saying it has hampered city businesses. Foes use a more loaded word for the charge: they call it a tax.
Joe Minott, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, said he liked the idea because "we need to stop favoring the highway and start, through our policies, favoring public transportation."
Minott said it was crucial that the proceeds go into improving alternative ways of commuting, not simply fattening the city's coffers.
The commuter charge was one in a long list of transportation proposals that the Democratic congressman unveiled at a news conference in Cira Centre yesterday.
Fattah's plan also included an array of proposals ranging from city political chestnuts (increasing Philadelphia's clout on the SEPTA board) to 21st-century innovations (offering tax credits for taxi operators who use hybrid vehicles) to bureaucratic rearrangements (creating an Office of Transportation to coordinate city transit planning).
On public transportation, Fattah said he would use upcoming negotiations over SEPTA's lease of city-owned subway lines in order to press for priorities like expanded service or more Philadelphia representation on the regional authority's board.
On the environment, he vowed to increase the number of hybrid vehicles in the city's motor pool, promote car-sharing services, and build "bicycle parking stations," complete with air pumps and water fountains, at major city destinations.
As has been the case at previous Fattah policy announcements, the congressman did not elaborate on the costs of the various ideas he had proposed. A rollout of his budget and fiscal policies should come in the next few weeks.