By Matthew Allen
Every day for as long as I can remember, my Dad has driven to and from work in Boston from our suburban town of Andover. This, according to 2018 numbers, has cost him a total of almost $50,000 in productivity over the last two decades due to the fact that Boston has the worst traffic of any city in the United States (and the eighth worst of any city on Earth). In 2018 alone, the average commuter that drove into Boston wasted over 160 hours of their life sitting in traffic, and, in rush hour, 60% of all roadways in the Greater Boston area are congested. Even worse, perhaps, is the fact that the average speed of driving in downtown Boston is 11 mph. However, this traffic doesn’t just plague the lives of commuters (and their employers). It plagues the environment, too. According to a 2014 EPA report, auto emissions serve as the largest source of air pollution in the state.
Despite all of this, very few commuters choose to take the commuter rail, as the trains are run-down, most lines have limited service, and many simply cannot afford the fares. These factors have led the MBTA’s commuter rail ridership to decrease by 25% since 2002, making Boston the only major city in the country whose commuter rail has decreased in riders since that point.
In order to address this important issue, I propose the implementation of a congestion pricing system in Boston, which will serve to: reduce overall traffic, decrease air pollution, and generate revenue to apply to more sustainable alternatives, such as the commuter rail. Congestion pricing is an idea that’s worked incredibly well in cities all over the globe. So well, that many American cities, such as New York and Seattle, are officially exploring implementing it themselves. However, Boston’s government has yet to follow their lead.
The fundamental concept of congestion pricing is that if we charge drivers a fee for entering a specific zone (generally the downtown area), people will choose to take alternative forms of transportation in order to avoid that fee, thus decreasing traffic and air pollution, and increasing public transportation ridership. And this has had immense success in cities such as Stockholm, Singapore, and London. Each of them has had a congestion pricing model for over a decade (Singapore has even had theirs since 1975). London’s system, which has been in place since 2003, includes an ￡8 ($13) daily flat fee for entering the congestion zone. This has helped to reduce traffic by 30%, and increase average downtown traffic speeds from 2-5 mph to 10 mph. It has also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 16%, increased public transit ridership by 18%, and generated over $200 million in revenue annually. It’s even served to help business within the zone, as such businesses are growing twice as fast as those in other areas of the city.
It’s clear that Boston has a congestion problem; one that is doing significant harm to economic productivity, to the environment, and to the lives of hundreds of thousands of commuters. Implementing a congestion pricing system has been proven to alleviate these problems in myriad cities across the globe, and now I believe it’s time for Boston to give it a try.
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