To fee or not to fee: Is congestion pricing the answer to Boston’s traffic woes?
Because of its dense population and limited infrastructure, driving in the city should be a privilege, not a right. Cars, especially when occupied by just one person, take up more space on our streets and pollute the air more than pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit riders.
Derrick Z. Jackson’s op-ed piece in the Boston Globe on Sunday, August 5th, “The Cure for Congestion: Sweden’s capital cut traffic sharply by charging motorists downtown, and we can do the same,” offers some interesting examples and a new way of addressing Boston’s congestion problem. Maybe it got your blood pressure boiling, maybe it got you thinking, or maybe both.
Urban congestion pricing plans—deemed successful so far in London, Stockholm, and Singapore—charge drivers a fee each time they enter a city, usually during peak traffic times. Congestion pricing has been very effective in alleviating traffic and reducing travel times. Typically, the most popular destinations (central business districts such as Copley Square in Back Bay, for example) cost more to enter at their busiest times.
The money raised goes to improve and expand public transit, something that is badly needed in metro Boston, where T ridership has risen as gas prices fluctuate and the job market slowly improves. Yet funding for public transit is scarce and insufficient. Rusting, packed trains and buses are now the norm, even during off-peak hours.
So what, if anything, can be done to improve metro Boston’s transportation network? There’s an urgent need to address our twin challenges of car traffic and crumbling infrastructure—namely, what to do to alleviate the commute for thousands of mostly solo drivers coming in from the suburbs to work and visit downtown Boston.
If we can’t create a viable alternative to car travel in the form of excellent public transit, then the traffic problem will continue to stifle our city and our economy. In order to have a vibrant, world-class city that can attract a talented workforce and healthy, productive residents, Boston must be truly livable and enjoyable for visitors and locals alike.
And for Boston to better compete in the global economy alongside its larger cousins such as New York, Tokyo, and London, we need a world-class transit system. The common refrains: “I pay enough in taxes already!” or: “Why should I pay for funding the T when I drive?” are short-sighted and don’t take into account that our taxes, paid by suburbanites and city dwellers alike, help fund and maintain our roads and bridges, whether or not we drive everyday. Each public transit rider, pedestrian, car pooler or cyclist is one less car clogging our roads.
Less traffic creates less wear and tear on our infrastructure, less stress, less pollution, and healthier, more productive lives for everyone. Traffic jams carry a huge cost to our society, a cost that is much greater than the amount of money that people would pay in congestion fees. Viewed in that light, it’s much more cost effective to charge reasonable congestion fees versus the huge economic loss when commercial and personal vehicles sit idling in traffic.
Still, there is little political or public will to create a congestion pricing program here. New York City tried and failed a few years ago. Those against congestion fees argue that it’s unfair to commuters who have no alternative but to drive. Many drivers can’t afford to pay an additional fee on top of parking, gas, and other car-related expenses to come into the city every day, especially during peak times.
David Owen, author of Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, argues against congestion pricing. He says that the fees eliminate rush hours, dispersing traffic. Driving becomes more pleasant but even more polluting, because cars that travel faster spew more pollutants than when their engines are idling.
While Boston may not yet be ready to roll out congestion pricing, it’s time for a major reset in how we think about traveling to and around the city, before traffic continues to threaten our economic growth and vitality.
There are some good ideas out there that could tackle car traffic without involving congestion fees. The Boston Globe noted in a recent editorial that Cambridge’s bustling Kendall Square has seen a 14 percent drop in car traffic over the past 10 years, even though the area has expanded its commercial and non-residential space by more than 4 million square feet during the same period.
City planners attribute this drop in large part to better infrastructure for cyclists, public transit, and pedestrians, along with incentives for workers in Cambridge not to drive to work—giving credence to the idea that if you build it, they will come: on foot, bike, car pool, and by T.
Headquartered in Boston, Plymouth Rock Assurance Corporation provides auto insurance to personal and commercial auto insurance customers in MA and CT. Plymouth Rock is the flagship carrier of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in auto and homeowner’s insurance throughout the Northeast.
Now that you know more about how to avoid potholes, what do you do if it’s too late and you’ve already hit one?
Here are some additional tips to help you through the hazards of late winter driving.
If you do hit a crater, have your car inspected. Wheel damage can be dangerous – it could cause a tire blowout or other serious problem while you’re driving. Such damage often can’t be seen without close inspection. If you take a hard hit, have a mechanic take a look at your vehicle to be sure you haven’t suffered hidden damage that could cause you to have an accident.
Do the right thing – wash regularly. The temptation to postpone washing the car until that next storm hits (In a week? Two?) or the roads dry out (Maybe in June?) should be ignored. Getting road salt, de-icing chemicals and dirt removed promptly will preserve the car’s finish and help prevent pitting of metal trim. Don’t forget the undercarriage wash, which will help reduce corrosion on exposed surfaces under your vehicle, including wheels, brakes and exhaust system parts.
And while you’re at it… Take the time to clean your front and rear lights after driving on wet roads. Dirt and salt can build up on the lenses and substantially reduce your visibility. A little window cleaner and a paper towel can go a long way toward helping you avoid hazards in the road, and helping other drivers avoid you.
Don’t forget to check your auto insurance policy, too, to determine the types of damage it covers and the amount of your deductible. If you purchased supplemental tire or wheel insurance, either through your auto insurer, your car dealer or the tire manufacturer, you may have coverage that will reduce your out-of-pocket expense for repairs. Plymouth Rock Assurance also offers its customers a variety of auto-related discounts from retailers that are located throughout New England. Check out our ways to save!
Take the time to make sure your car is properly inspected and maintained, especially during this pothole season, to help you arrive at your destinations safely.
The winter isn’t over yet, but you probably feel like you and your car have had enough. With the recent break from those continuous storms, we have been seeing (and feeling) a new crop of potholes on the roads. Here is Part 1 of our series on pothole season. It includes a few tips to help you avoid potholes and the damage they can cause.
Avoid potholes. You don’t want to swerve around dangerously, but be careful to hit as few open potholes as possible while still driving safely. Minor bumps won’t do much, if any, damage but some holes are deeper than they look. A hard hit, especially at high speed, can set you up for costly tire or wheel damage.
Re-route around the worst roads. Continuous driving over heavily patched roads with lots of bumps and dips will increase wear and tear on tires, shocks, ball joints and other parts of the wheel and suspension systems. Do your best to stay on well-maintained roads.
Beware the rain-filled pothole. You know enough to avoid potholes you can see, but road divots take on different characteristics in the rain. What looks like a puddle can throw your wheels out of alignment, break a tie-rod, or worse. Keep this in mind when driving in rainy conditions. Slow down and take special care when puddles appear on an otherwise flat stretch of road.
As highway and road crews try to keep up with the holes, you may be able to help. WHDH-TV News (Channel 7) recently featured a story about an app that the City of Boston is trying to develop, called Street Bump, which would track where the potholes are in the city so that public works crews will be aware of the roads that need to be fixed. Check the story out here: http://www.whdh.com/news/articles/local/12003500731123/smartphone-app-to-detect-boston-pothole-problems/
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon, and be careful driving out there!