It didn’t take long for Los Angeles traffic to return to its infamous pre-pandemic levels. Streets are again clogged — but could it get even worse?

To prevent a traffic nightmare, researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs are considering a strategy called congestion pricing, which was first fully tested in Singapore in 1975. It introduces a tariff closer to the “true cost” of using roadways, charging peak prices at peak hours. The purpose of congestion pricing is not to deter people from going out, but to nudge them into alternative means of transportation.

Brian D. Taylor, director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies and professor of urban planning and public policy, believes traditional underpricing of road usage results in a shortage of space available. “Everybody is worse off because things slow down so much,” he says.

Congestion pricing is already in use in parts of L.A., such as on the 110 Freeway, but the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Southern California Association of Governments are examining pilot programs to expand the system in 2025. The programs could cordon and charge in areas such as Central Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and Westside cities.

Taylor highlights the city of Stockholm, Sweden, where a 2006 pilot program had drivers pay the equivalent of around $2 to enter the city center. While there was public pushback at first, people began to embrace the change when traffic fell by 20% and the added revenue was funneled into improving public transit.

One concern is that congestion charging will disproportionately affect people with low income. However, the system could benefit them in the long run, says Michael Manville M.A. ’03, Ph.D. ’09, associate professor of urban planning. Many Angelenos do not drive to work but depend on public buses, so easing traffic could mean a shorter trip home at the end of the day. Manville says, “The right thing to do is to take some of the money paid by affluent people and use it for a program that helps low-income people.”

Read more from UCLA Magazine's January 2022 issue.