Our transportation system doesn't work for everyone
Congestion and car trips are on the rise in Portland. This is more than just frustrating—it’s costing our economy millions of dollars, hurting our health and accelerating the climate crisis. These impacts hit our most vulnerable community members the hardest. The inequities we see in our transportation system are the result of past decisions and historic disinvestment that have disproportionately harmed communities of color, low-income Portlanders and persons with disabilities. We must do things differently to reverse these trends.
Our region is growing, with 500,000 new residents expected to live here by 2040. While we’re taking many steps to improve our transportation system and plan for this growth, projections show current strategies and planned transportation investments won’t be enough. We need to get smarter about how we use and manage our transportation infrastructure, and in doing so, create a more equitable mobility system.
What is “equitable mobility”?
Mobility is freedom of movement, the ease with which people can get where they need to go, and businesses can move goods through our city. A transportation system with equitable mobility provides the same opportunity for everyone to move around reliably and sustainably in ways that meet their needs.
Right now, Portland’s transportation system isn’t equitable. Communities of color and low-income Portlanders face barriers that impact their mobility and access—due to gentrification, displacement, historic underinvestment, and a transportation funding system based on regressive gas taxes. Over time, these burdens and the costs associated with them have unfairly impacted specific communities. Through efforts like the Pricing Options for Equitable Mobility (POEM) project, we are aiming to make sure our transportation system works for everyone.
The POEM Community Task Force has developed a working draft Equitable Mobility Framework to inform decision making and guide policy analysis around pricing strategies. The Equitable Mobility Framework was inspired by and adapted from the Greenlining Institute's Mobility Equity Framework. It is a living document and will continue to be refined throughout the POEM project process.
Can pricing help advance equitable mobility?
Cities around the world are already experimenting with ways to “price” congestion, inequities, and the impact to the climate. “Pricing” actually describes a wide range of strategies such as tolling or variable parking prices. In places like London and Stockholm, pricing helps encourage people to drive less, drive at different times, carpool, take transit, walk, bike, or consider other options. In the U.S., New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco are all implementing or considering pricing strategies.
The truth is, we can’t build our way out of congestion. Studies show that simply adding more space on the roads for cars only leads to worse traffic. However, by using pricing strategies designed for our local context, we can bring efficiency to our roadways to the benefit of us all.
Here in Portland, we already put a price on many things in our transportation system based on their availability, value, and impact. Parking spaces are just one example. PBOT’s goal for the POEM project is to be more strategic in how we price parts of our transportation system as well as how we invest that money in improvements that will reduce traffic, advance equity, and make the system more sustainable long-term.
Pricing strategies we may explore through this project include (but are not limited to):
- Prices on parking
- Prices on types of trips (such as private-for-hire rides)
- Prices on road and right-of-way access
- Prices based on how much or how far someone drives (vehicle miles traveled)
Pricing is not a tool to be used alone. Rather, it should be incorporated into a wide range of strategies that will build the facilities, create the services, and provide the information Portlanders need to get where they need to go by every mode. For the next two years, PBOT will continue to research and talk to the community about how pricing could help make our transportation system work for everyone.
PBOT is advancing the POEM project with support provided through the American Cities Climate Challenge.
POEM Community Task Force
In July 2019, City Council directed PBOT and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) to convene a Community Task Force through the POEM project to explore if and how transportation pricing strategies could be used in Portland to advance our values (Resolution No. 37442). The Task Force will meet monthly over an 18-month period between January 2020 and summer 2021.
The POEM Community Task Force will advise the City on the design of potential pricing strategies as well as priorities for any revenue generated through pricing. Currently, 23 people sit on the Task Force representing diverse perspectives, interests and expertise from across our community.
The Task Force meets monthly and all meetings are open to the public. Learn more about upcoming Task Force meetings.
Share your thoughts!
We invite public comment throughout the POEM project. You can share your thoughts with the Project Team or the Community Task Force in the following ways:
- Email comments and questions to POEMComments@portlandoregon.gov. All comments received via email by the Friday before a Task Force meeting (which occur the second Monday of each month) will be recorded and shared with the Task Force at the meeting.
- Attend an upcoming Community Task Force meeting and provide verbal or written comments.
Moving to Our Future: Meeting our core goals
Pricing Options for Equitable Mobility is a key strategy identified in Moving to Our Future, PBOT's 2019-2022 strategic plan.
This project will advance PBOT’s goals around moving people and goods by helping make the most efficient use of our limited road space and providing transportation options for a growing city.
This project will also advance our commitment to transportation justice.
As with all the work we do, PBOT will ask two fundamental questions throughout this process:
- Will the pricing strategies we are considering advance equity and address structural racism?
- Will they reduce carbon emissions?
Regional Coordination for Better Mobility
The City of Portland, Metro and ODOT are all working on projects that consider ways to price transportation to address challenges related to equity, climate change, congestion, and safety. Each agency makes decisions for different parts of our region’s transportation system.
Each has separate projects underway to help address issues specific to those geographies. The three agencies are coordinating their efforts to leverage each other’s work, learn from one another and share findings. Learn more about ODOT's Tolling Projects and Metro Regional Congestion Pricing Study.