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Uber gets political, will spend $10M pushing for ‘congestion pricing’ tolls in Seattle, elsewhere

Uber says it plans to spend money lobbying for congestion pricing in Seattle as part of a $10 million push for “sustainable mobility” policies in various cities.

The ride-hail app company and its rival, Lyft, have previously expressed support for the idea of tolling downtown streets in Seattle, where Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration is working to develop a proposal. But Uber’s new commitment to actively press for congestion pricing in the city, shared with The Seattle Times last week, could be the biggest boost yet for an effort certain to encounter political roadblocks, including concerns about affordability.

Though several foreign cities use congestion-pricing setups to reduce car travel in busy areas at busy times, no American city has a widespread tolling system.

Ride-hail companies want to put as many of their drivers on the road as they deem necessary and would rather see cities adopt tolls than put caps on ride-hail vehicles. The companies also have apps that can easily account for congestion pricing.

“We are going to invest $10 million over the next three years,” Uber spokesman Nathan Hambley said in an interview, referring to an announcement by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi last month about the public-policy spending.

“Part of that is going to go toward lobbying for congestion pricing … It’s a politically difficult case to make, but we feel strongly it’s good public policy,” Hambley added, saying the campaign will include lobbying in Seattle.

The spokesman didn’t say exactly how much money the company plans to spend in the city.

Uber shelled out $350,000 on ads and phone calls earlier this year to back a congestion-pricing effort in New York City that mostly stalled, and it plans to spend more there next year, The New York Times reported. Lawmakers did pass surcharges on taxi and ride-hail trips into Manhattan.