Apr 18, 2024 - Transit

Transit advocates urge downtown Boston tolls to make traffic bearable

Traffic jam

Photo: Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Imag

Starting in June, it will cost at least $15 to enter parts of Manhattan by automobile, making New York the first major U.S. city to implement congestion pricing. Transit advocates and drivers fed up with traffic want to try it in downtown Boston.

Why it matters: Boston consistently ranks as having some of the worst traffic in the U.S.

  • The heavy new toll in New York is meant to reduce congestion and pollution while helping fund public transit alternatives.
  • Proponents say congestion pricing here would ease gridlock and generate revenue to make the MBTA a palatable way to get into town.
  • Opponents fear adding more costs to vehicle travel will punish low-income drivers and harm businesses.

How it works: Making it financially harder to drive incentivizes carpooling, traveling at off-peak hours or just taking the train.

  • Massachusetts officials could make the new tolls cheaper during hours outside rush hour.
  • EVs could be given discounts while carbon-emitting vehicles could face steeper bills.

State of play: A bill to create a commission to look at congestion pricing has been floating around Beacon Hill.

  • Boston City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson also wants the Council to consider a fee similar to New York's for Boston drivers, though the Council has not yet scheduled a hearing on the issue.

What they're saying: "This system only is equitable with an effective public transportation system," MIT economic department chair Jon Gruber told GBH News.

  • Gruber called it a "chicken and the egg" situation since the state would need the money raised by the toll to pay for improved trains.

Friction point: The state Legislature is dominated by suburban Democrats who are typically very resistant to raising tolls on drivers.

The bottom line: The congestion pricing experiment in New York will be years old before any Massachusetts program could go into effect, giving urban drivers plenty of evidence that the system can truly alleviate traffic.

  • Lawmakers could include a congestion proposal in a major transportation bill that's expected to hit Beacon Hill next year.
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