Can It Work in the U.S.? A Plan to Ease Traffic in Our Busiest Cities

By Parker Williams

Most cities are already fully developed, which means it’s nearly impossible to build new infrastructure to ease traffic congestion. As a result, various forms of congestion pricing methods have popped up. One of those methods is cordon pricing.

Cordon pricing, also known as zone-based pricing, charges drivers a fee in order to enter a designated area. Currently all 20 operational zone-based or cordon pricing projects are outside of the U.S., including the much-publicized projects in Singapore, London and Stockholm. Let’s focus on London.

London implemented the “London congestion charge” in 2003. This zone-based fee is charged throughout the busy hours of the week, in an effort to deter people from driving into downtown London during the busiest time of day.

Parker Williams-headshot
The question isn’t necessarily could [cordon pricing] work in the United States … [rather] how could we convince the public that it is a viable option? — Parker Williams, senior vice president, Transportation Solutions, Xerox

How does it work?

The designated, 8-square mile area is surrounded by a network of fixed and mobile cameras that capture the images of license plates on vehicles that enter or move within the zone. There are no toll booths, gantries, or barriers. Drivers do not have to stop before entering the zone. The system is designed to keep traffic moving. (View the Congestion Charge Zone Map)

Is cordon pricing a success?

It’s been 11 years since London implemented their cordon pricing model for congestion. After the first year of operation:

  • Traffic in the charging zone was reduced by 15 percent and the number of entering vehicles decreased by 18 percent.
  • Traffic delays were cut by 25 percent, travel speeds increased by 30 percent, and bus use increased by 40 percent.
  • There were 70,000 fewer trips into the zone with estimated 20 to 30 percent of trips eliminated, 50 to 60 percent shifted to mass transit, and 15-25 percent switched to carpooling.

And these 2013 figures appear to have resulted from the congestion charge:

  • The London Underground runs 5 percent more train-miles on the Tube.
  • Bus usage reached a 50-year high in 2011.
  • Bike trips increased 79 percent from 2001-2011.
  • Travel fatalities and serious injuries were the lowest on record in 2011.

One of London’s main goals in implementing a system such as the congestion pricing was to improve the air quality in the city. Since more folks are using public transit or riding bicycles to get around the city, this reduces emissions. An April 2011 study by the Health Effects Institute titled, “The Impact of the Congestion Charging” states that are changes in air pollutant concentrations in central London compared with outer areas, but it is difficult to attribute the changes to the congestion pricing system alone.

Sign and street markings at old street central zone and western expansion.
Sign and street markings at old street central zone and western expansion.

One thing is certain: The cordon charges bring in a lot of extra revenue that must be spent on public transport.

Could it work in the United States?

New York is the only U.S. City that has attempted to implement a zone-based pricing structure , but in 2008 failed to gain the required approval from the New York General Assembly.

The question isn’t necessarily could it work in the United States; this type of system has been proven to work in London, Singapore, and Stockholm. The question really becomes: How could we convince the public that it is a viable option? The American public tends to see cordon pricing as just another tax; and no one likes to pay for something that they’ve been receiving for “free.” It’s important for drivers to recognize that a cordon pricing method can decrease congestion, which then saves us all time, gas, and improves air quality.

That’s got to amount to something.


Transport for London: Congestion Charge –

Transport for London: Impacts Monitoring –

StreetsBlog: Lessons from London After 10 Years of the Congestion Charge:

Related Posts

Receive Updates

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To see how we protect your personal data, view our Privacy Policy.