National League of Cities: Cities Should Consider Congestion Pricing

August 7, 2019 - (4 min read)

WASHINGTON — August 7, 2019 — Solving the growing infrastructure crisis is a priority for American cities, towns and villages. Communities are counting on every level of government to work together, increase investment opportunities and most of all, drive forward innovative solutions. To explore new city-led solutions, the National League of Cities (NLC) has released a new guide, “Making Space: Congestion Charging in Cities,” which encourages cities to consider congestion charging systems as a potentially economical solution to build thriving communities, calm traffic and improve quality of life for residents.

Congestion pricing is a type of road user charge system in which a flat or variable rate fee is charged to vehicles that drive in a specified area or zone within a city. Congestion pricing models can help communities properly price the use of our roadways, which are a finite, in-demand good. These models are built on a basic economic concept: When a public good is in high demand, the price charged to use that good increases to reflect its value and thus, what users are willing to pay to use it. Most of these systems will be used to fund transit and infrastructure.

“It’s no secret that America’s physical infrastructure and natural environment are under threat,” said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities (NLC). “The people in our communities deserve better. By piloting new technologies like congestion charging systems, local leaders have the opportunity to find ways to sustainably improve conditions on and around America’s roads.”

In “Making Space: Congestion Charging in Cities,” NLC explores how congestion charging systems can become a practical funding alternative to keep up with the nation’s transportation mobility projects. The report explains how congestion charging works, reviews the different pilot programs, and shows the potential advantages and barriers to implementing pilots in the U.S.

American Infrastructure is crumbling. The ASCE has given American infrastructure a “D+”. It could cost almost $5 trillion to fully fix and upgrade American infrastructure. Congestion charging systems could potentially raise billions of dollars per year.

Meanwhile, congestion is a major problem in cities, set to get worse as the population grows and our transit systems continue to depend on cars and ride share applications, and autonomous vehicles begin to roll out. In U.S. cities with populations of 50,000 or more, 91 percent of residents commute by car. In mid-sized cities it hovers between 86 and 87 percent, and in large cities, that number drops to 78 percent. Even among the 15 largest cities, only five have comprehensive transportation systems. Cities need an equitable way to ensure that the people in our communities have access to cleaner air and reasonable commutes to work, school and play. Congestion pricing is a new and emerging framework that doesn’t yet exist in the U.S., although New York City is about to launch a congestion charge.

The report includes case studies from:

  • London
  • Stockholm
  • Singapore
  • New York City

“The mobility landscape is changing: Driverless cars, electric vehicles, e-scooters and even robots are coming to our streets. But we still haven’t fixed our nation’s infrastructure,” said Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director for NLC’s Center for City Solutions. “We all deserve safe roads and bridges, clean air and access to transit. Ultimately, city leaders will be the ones to usher in the innovative, forward-looking systems to get us there.”

NLC’s top legislative priority in 2019 is rebuilding and reimagining America’s infrastructure. The Rebuild With Us campaign has prioritized ways Congress and the administration can work with local leaders in key areas, including transforming our transportation systems, broadband and water infrastructure. NLC is calling on Congress to develop and pass a comprehensive bill that rebuilds and reimagines America’s infrastructure in partnership with local governments, because America’s cities, towns and villages can’t afford to wait.

You can read the full report here.


The National League of Cities (NLC) is the voice of America’s cities, towns and villages, representing more than 200 million people across the country. NLC works to strengthen local leadership, influence federal policy and drive innovative solutions. Stay connected with NLC on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.