Plymouth Rock Assurance: Congestion fees in Boston?
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.