Winthrop Resident; Boston Program Manager at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
We have congestion pricing now. We pay for overcrowded roads with our time, productivity, health, pollution, and quality of life. The status quo is intolerable, and getting worse.
It’s past time to fix it.
Boston area rush hour traffic was ranked worst in the nation last year, and as the Globe reported, the number of vehicles on our roads has risen 300,000 in five years. There’s no denying that congestion in Greater Boston has become a crisis. Some see it as an unavoidable outcome of a good economy. That’s an excuse, not an answer.
People most harmed by the congestion status quo have limited options: the hourly-wage worker who can’t afford to be late, the contractor who can’t make it to a job site, the parent rushing to daycare. Telecommuting isn’t an option for them.
And for people who live or work by congested highways, and suffer disproportionately from respiratory disease as a result, this is more than an inconvenience. It’s a threat to their health.
But how can we fix congestion? We don’t have room to add roads or lanes. From experience, we know that won’t work anyway, any more than loosening your belt helps you lose weight. It feels great until new traffic fills the space.
Improving transit is part of the solution. Some people drive because the MBTA is inaccessible, unreliable, or overcrowded. Every driver switching to transit helps. But transit alone won’t fix this problem. And it doesn’t help bus riders stuck in traffic.
What’s proven to work, around the country and the world, is congestion pricing. Charging higher tolls during high-demand hours produces results by encouraging drivers to switch to transit, take another route, or drive at another time of day. Taking just a few cars off the road will improve traffic flow. Combined with bus lanes, better public transit, and locating more jobs and housing near transit, congestion pricing can solve this problem.
For people unable to afford congestion-charging programs and have to drive, let’s give them assistance. We have income-based discounts for many programs; this should be no different.
Congestion pricing is proven. Let’s give it a try.
Melrose Republican City Committee member; former Melrose city councilor, former president of the Massachusetts Municipal Councillors’ Association
If our goal is to relieve traffic and gridlock from the streets of our Commonwealth, then congestion pricing is not the answer.
We all share the frustration that a traffic-laden commute brings — anxiety over whether we will make it work in time, the frustration that a commute that should take 30 minutes takes double that and worry about the effect millions of idling cars have on the environment. Isn’t this discouragement enough to make drivers want to stay off our roads? Don’t we think people would avoid spending an extra hour each day sitting in stop-and-go traffic if they, in fact, had a choice in the matter?
But for the hundreds of thousands of us Bay Staters whose employers dictate when we have to be at work and when we can leave, a congested commute to and from work is a recurring nightmare. Imposing congestion pricing will just increase this burden of stress and anxiety on those who have little to no control over the days and hours they have to be at work or school.
Increasing tolls during peak hours or adding new ones on our routes heading into Boston, would only serve to push drivers hoping to avoid this new extra tax to seek alternate routes through our neighborhood roads. And you thought school drop-off was bad now?
Imposing yet another tax on our working class will not solve this problem. Rather, we need to incentivize the ones who actually have the control to shape our commutes: our Commonwealth’s employers. Instead of further punishing a group of hardworking residents who are just trying to keep up with the financial challenges of living in such a high-cost area, our lawmakers should incentivize our state’s employers by offering tax credits for each day they keep an employee off the road.
Coupling shorter workweeks and work-from-home options with further efforts to strengthen public transportation could make a real difference. Imagine the improvement that we might see to the physical and mental health of our residents, and to our roads and on our environment if we incentivized employers who actually have the ability to make a difference.