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Mayor Durkan: Seattle may charge a toll for driving downtown

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan discusses the city's environmental initiatives at a news conference in Kerry Park. (KOMO News photo)

SEATTLE - Mayor Jenny Durkan on Wednesday announced a series of "creative and innovative" environmental initiatives the city of Seattle is studying - including a controversial proposal to charge a toll for driving in some parts of the inner city.

The toll would be an effective way to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles clogging downtown streets in the city's core while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Durkan said.

She referred to the tolls as "congestion pricing" and said it would work like this: "If you're going to be the person driving in there, you've got to pay more money."

The mayor said congestion pricing would not be implemented without further study and input from all stakeholders in the city. A tolling proposal would likely have to go to the city council and to voters as an initiative.

"We will study all the options as expeditiously as possible and work with the people who are affected," she said. "It's not going to be top-down government. We're going to listen to people."

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Durkan also said public transit would need to be beefed up significantly in order for the congestion pricing plan to work. "We can't ask people to get out of vehicles unless there are other good options," she said.

Asked if the tolling idea is part of Seattle's continuing "war on cars," Durkan denied it and said the proposal would actually help people who have no choice but to drive inside the city because it would help reduce traffic.

Similar toll systems are in place in big cities such as London, Stockholm and Singapore. New York has explored the idea for years, but prospects have dimmed in recent weeks for its latest proposal.

Durkan said the city is studying a host of other initiatives, including:

- A significant increase in charging stations for electric vehicles inside the city

- More electrically powered public transit buses

- Incentives to help homeowners transition from oil heating to other sources of energy

- Enforcing green building codes that will lower the carbon footprint of new construction

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