It’s no secret that Boston has a huge traffic problem. Most people who commute on the roads surrounding the Boston metropolitan area believe that something needs to be done to relieve the pressure on our roadways. Could congestion pricing be the solution we are looking for?
According to a new study, the average Bostonian spends 500 days commuting during his or her lifetime, making the city one of the worst in the U.S. for time stuck in transit. If thinking about your lifetime of commuting is too overwhelming, how about this statistic about daily commute times from the U.S. Census Data : “The average daily round-trip commute in Boston is 64 minutes, 29th worst among all U.S. cities.”
Governor Charlie Baker and his administration warns that our city is at a “tipping point.” Not only are our roads severely congested which impacts our economy, the likelihood that a business would want to move to the Boston regional area, and the strength of our workforce, but this congestion also has an enormous impact on our environment.
Terminology called “congestion pricing” is something that has been tossed around quite a bit since recent studies have shown just how bad Boston’s traffic situation really is. Legislators and transportation experts are examining this as a potential solution to the increasing traffic congestion in our area.
According to Transportation for Massachusetts Executive Director Chris Dempsey, “Traffic is not unique to Massachusetts, but we have largely been throwing up our hands in frustration or even adopting policies that make things worse. Other regions around the country are tackling this problem head-on by providing pricing incentives for where and when people drive.”
There are several bills before the Transportation Committee that would create this type of congestion pricing legislation in Massachusetts. The proposals range in specificity and duration: one calls for a pilot program in the Sumner, Callahan, and Ted Williams tunnels, and the other would enact full statewide implementation.
Both proposals would require roadway tolls to decrease at least 25% during off-peak times, and the larger-scale version would impose a premium cost of at least 25% during peak travel. The bills do not define peak and off-peak periods, and peak traffic periods have been lengthening.
The ultimate goal of this legislation would be to reduce peak traffic congestion and encourage more carpooling, bus service, and/or train service. “The rule of thumb here is if we can get 5% of cars off the road … at rush hour, we can have a 20 percent reduction in traffic,” Dempsey said.
Critics of Congestion Pricing
It sounds so simple. What could be wrong with this plan to institute lower pricing during off peak times and higher pricing during peak times as an incentive to reduce traffic? Critics respond that the legislation would punish drivers who have no flexibility in their work schedule or in taking children to school.
Not only would this legislation impact drivers with inflexible schedules but also those of low-income, who may not be able to afford, for example, long distance bus service. Some also suggest the congestion pricing scheme would benefit the eastern part of the state at the expense of Western Massachusetts.
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