Modal Choices and Spending Patterns of Travelers to Downtown San Francisco, California: Impacts of Congestion Pricing on Retail Trade

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - traffic, planning - travel demand management, planning - travel demand management, land use - impacts, ridership - mode choice, ridership - demand, policy - congestion, economics - pricing, organisation - management, place - urban, place - cbd, mode - mass transit, mode - pedestrian, mode - pedestrian


Walking, Urban areas, Trip reduction, Travel demand management, Transportation demand management, Transit, Traffic congestion, TDM measures, Shops, Shopping facilities, San Francisco (California), Ridership, Retail trade, Recreational trips, Public transit, Pedestrians, Patronage (Transit ridership), Mode choice, Modal choice, Mass transit, Local transit, Highway usage, Highway travel, Gridlock (Traffic), Consumption, Consumer behavior, Congestion pricing, Choice of transportation


Congestion pricing is a demand management strategy implemented on roadways to reduce traffic congestion, improve mobility, and encourage public transit ridership. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority in California is determining the feasibility of pricing to manage congestion, which is most severe in the downtown, Civic Center, and south of Market districts. These districts serve a variety of purposes that are not limited to office, restaurant, retail, hotel, and industrial and everyday attract a high number of workers and visitors—both local and tourist. The most vocal opponents to the potential congestion pricing program are downtown merchants. Many believe that their patrons primarily come by car and that drivers spend more money than transit riders and pedestrians. This study examined the travel to San Francisco’s major retail and entertainment centers and the spending patterns of those traveling to these centers, to assess whether these perceptions hold true. The survey found that most travelers get to downtown San Francisco by taking transit or walking, regardless of their income. Travelers using these modes spend more per month than those traveling by car, because they come more frequently to engage in recreational activities. The belief that recreational customers predominantly travel by car and spend more than transit riders is not reflected in the data, nor is this belief consistent with similar observations in other cities. Findings indicate the need for faster, more reliable multimodal transportation that supports a vibrant economy and provides viable travel choices to all.