Regional Work: Road User Charge in San Diego

In 2022 ClimatePlan worked with Assemblymember Laura Friedman on AB 2438, a bill to align California’s investments in transportation infrastructure with the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI). While AB 2438 was vetoed at the Governor’s office, the charge of cutting through the institutional inertia of a government as expansive and complicated as California’s to get on a path for meeting the state’s existing climate goals remains - the work must move forward. San Diego is a place where we see that conversation unfolding in real-time.

Answering The Call For Climate Action In San Diego

The Draft 2022 SB 150 Report provided a dire status update on the progress of California’s regions at meeting the emissions reduction and climate goals set by SB 375; the report highlights “the gap between intention and action” as part of “worrying trends” across the state. Meanwhile in San Diego, the region’s MPO SANDAG developed a 2021 RTP / SCS that took the task of reducing VMT and suggested a mechanism of realistically meeting their target. SANDAG’s inclusion of a Road Usage Charge (RUC) is an early introduction of the conversation around road pricing, and more broadly, the future of how transportation will be funded especially as gas taxes are reconsidered in the transition to ZEVs. San Diego is a canary in the proverbial coal (lithium?) mine of the types of conversations we can expect to see coming to an MPO near you in California.

SANDAG’s CEO Hasan Ikhrata has spoken directly on the inclusion of a RUC in their RTP - that if CARB wants to have “serious discussion” about closing the gap between California’s intended climate targets and regional action to achieve them, it must evaluate RTP / SCSs on whether they include road pricing or a similarly substantive mechanism. ClimatePlan appreciates this honest, tangible approach to lean into the hard conversations, more MPO’s will have these types of conversations in order to reach their regional climate targets. While SANDAG was headed in the right direction, unfortunately on September 23, 2022 the MPO’s Board of Directors voted to have the RUC removed from the RTP / SCS. 

If road pricing is new or interesting to you, check out ClimatePlan’s other work on this topic including our introductory fact sheet.


The SANDAG Board 

Per the direction of SANDAG’s board, the current state of the agency’s RTP is for staff to bring back a version of the plan that removes the RUC for board consideration and to submit to CARB for reapproval. ClimatePlan attended SANDAG’s inaugural Board of Directors meeting of the 2023 session in January to provide comments in person to the new board, and we’ve been convening regular discussion with our partners in the San Diego region about their RTP. If SANDAG advances an RTP removing the RUC as the board intends, the next question to follow will be whether or not CARB will approve it as in compliance with SB 375.

It’s no surprise that a RUC is a controversial topic and a complicated conversation to have considering how new of a concept it is to many of us, and the many unanswered questions about how one might be implemented. Fortunately, implementation of planning processes doesn’t happen overnight and RTPs are an iterative process - with SANDAG’s set to be revisited in four-year cycles. While we don’t have to have all of the answers today, it will take leadership today to find them in time for California to equitably meet our climate goals.

ClimatePlan will continue to work with our partners in San Diego to ensure that future iterations of the RTP address the matter of a RUC equitably, and we are looking towards the 2025 RTP as it progresses. As the state, MPO’s, and local jurisdictions start to draft policies for RUC’s ClimatePlan is creating a Road Pricing Workgroup to help track, advise and strategize how we ensure these policies are equitably implemented across the state. 

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