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Reader Poll: Should Boston Charge City Drivers?

If you’ve driven in Boston recently, chances are you’ve noticed quite a lot of company on the roads. Boston drivers spent 60+ hours stuck in traffic last year, according to the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard. This is up 3% from 2016 and is estimated to have cost the city 5.7 billion dollars.

We’re not the only city facing this challenge. New York City ranked second on the INRIX scorecard (Boston was #7) with 91+ hours stuck in traffic. To alleviate this, New York is considering congestion pricing – charging drivers to drive through Manhattan’s main commercial districts. This would hopefully encourage people to find alternatives for traveling within the city, and the money generated could go towards public transit improvements.

Is it time for Boston to charge city drivers? Vote in our poll and add your comments in the section below.

Note: Congestion pricing in Boston is not currently in the works. It is an idea being considered in Manhattan that could potentially spread to other congested cities. As always, our web polls are not scientific, representing only those readers who choose to vote.

38 Replies to “Reader Poll: Should Boston Charge City Drivers?

  1. 1) drivers already pay excise taxes and gas taxes and tolls and other regulations and fees.

    2) A tax will not alleviate any traffic. It will not improve public transportation. It will just be more money for politicians to waste. It will cripple the middle class.

    3) a few weeks ago there was a heated debate on this site about a “$100 parking fee”. People were told “it’s only $100 a year!” Well this what those middle class residents were concerned about. It is never just one tax.

    4) NYC has a $15 toll to go through the Lincoln Tunnell. They have similar tolls on many other bridges and tunnels and have had them in place for quite some time. How has that worked?

    1. 1) Wonderful! Let’s actually increase these fees to cover the cost of road maintenance, let alone expansion (and other externalities, e.g., climate change, worsening public health, and pollution). Simply put, these fees are inadequate. The U.S. PIRG found in 2015 that the average household paid $1,100 per year in other taxes (sales, income, etc.) redirected to pay for the roads, no matter how much they drove (or if they drove at all!). That doesn’t seem fair.

      One reason is that the federal gas tax hasn’t changed since 1993. Our state gas tax was supposed to increase with inflation (at the time it hadn’t increased since 1991), but that measure was repealed in a ballot initiative. It’s at 26.54 cents/gallon today, which is less than the 36 cents/gallon it would’ve been in 2014 if the law hadn’t been repealed.

      2) Congestion pricing and dynamic tolling have been found worldwide to reduce congestion (see: London, Singapore, I-66 in Virginia, etc etc). If something is “free” (see: the free candy bowl in the office) then you over consume. The only reason why we don’t have rolling blackouts and water shortages is because we apply a price to these utilities. In contrast, the “free”ways are clogged at almost all hours because they are way under-priced (if priced at all).

      The best part about congestion pricing is that it’s actually pro driver. No one likes sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. Applying pricing on major highways that changes based on demand means that people who can shift their driving time (an estimated 50% of drivers during rush hour don’t actually need to be driving at that time), will do so! That means people can waste less time sitting in traffic. During off-peak times, the price would fall or even go to zero.

      3) Using scarce public space for private car storage should never be free. If you want on-street parking, but can’t afford $100/year then I recommend you move to the place we invented that has ample parking–the suburbs. Giving away one of the city’s most valuable and highly demanded assets–land–for free is not sound policy.

      4) $15 is obviously not enough for the privilege to use the public road to enter the densest part of the US with ample alternatives to driving.

      US PIRG report:

      1. Jared I feel as if you don’t have a great grasp on basic economics.

        A new study was just released. To rent a one bedroom in Boston a resident must make at least $80,000 per year. The city is becoming more and more unaffordable. It is becoming impossible to raise a family in any part of Boston. Taxing the middle and lower class will make this worse.

        The reason why other taxes such as sales taxes go to roads is because our roads are used to deliver many goods and services. Everybody in our society benefits from our roads and highways whether you drive a car, bicycle, or scooter.

        Speaking of sales tax and economy. If we begin to toll more roads and bridges what do you think will happen to the prices of basic consumer goods? Do you think companies delivering goods throughout Boston every single day every single hour will eat the cost? They won’t. The cost will be burdened on the back of residents. Residents will pay for the toll and the price increase.

        Economics 101

        1. I have two degrees in Economics.

          I’ll point out a few of the admittedly several fallacies in your comment.

          Roads are not an unqualified public good. I of course distinguish roads from streets, the latter being gathering points for commerce and interaction, the former designed for speed alone (although now mired in congestion). Simply, our current sprawling built environment has tremendous environmental and public health costs.

          Considering the cost of road maintenance alone, our federal, state, and local budgets cannot afford the current bill even with the existing transfers of sales and income taxes. Sure, I concede that some transfer is likely warranted.

          Still, just to afford what we have already built, we need new revenue.

          Where would you have that revenue come from? I contend that the fairest approach is to assess fees on people who use our public highways during the periods of highest demand.

          Contrary to your claim that these fees would hurt low income people, most people driving during peak periods on the highways leading into Boston are not low income. I suspect this is a claim trotted out by politicians as cover to avoid having a serious conversation on congestion pricing for fear of their wealthier constituents lashing out at them.

          In truth, low income individuals are far more likely to be on a bus stuck in congestion caused by the overcrowding of cars on our public roads or else they’re crammed onto sorely underfunded trains. In the cases when these people drive, they most frequently do so during off-peak periods when congestion pricing would be low or zero.

          As for your claim that it would lead to spiraling costs of consumer goods, consider again that congestion prices and dynamic tolling decrease in amount (likely to zero) in off-peak periods. Most deliveries occur during those off-peak periods.

          Of course, Boston, but especially the close-in suburbs of Brookline, Cambridge, and the like, can and should be doing more to encourage the construction of housing–at all income levels. But where will the pressure to reform zoning ordinances come from if roads are “free” and city dwellers continue to subsidize suburban commuters?

          Still, I’m curious, how would you fix congestion?

          1. I’m not sure where you are getting your information that low and middle class workers are not driving during congestion times. Do nurses, construction workers, janitors, etc not leaver/enter the city when work gets out? You’re information seems to be opinions and cherry picked info.

            To be honest I have to question a lot of your information. You made a claim in an earlier post praising the great accomplishments of toll roads on RT I-66 in Virginia. However with a quick google search the tolls seem to be a disaster.

            For anybody interested in this proposal give the attached link a read. A good example of what can happen.


          2. It’s a simple thought exercise: when do construction workers arrive at the work site? When do janitors start cleaning the office?

            The former arrive far earlier than most commuters heading into the city and the latter arrive much later. “Much earlier” and “much later” suggest that they would not be traveling during peak periods. Since they’re not traveling during peak periods, they would not pay the highest tolls (if any at all).

            While an analysis has not be done for Greater Boston, a recent one for NYC based on the Governor’s congestion pricing plan found that of the 118,000 commuters who would be subject to the toll, only 5,000 would qualify as low income. While these people would face hardship if they were unable to change to a different mode of transportation, the Governor has planned to offer compensation to cover the increased cost for them.

            Still, these number of drivers pale in comparison to the 8.8 million daily riders of the NYC subway, buses, and ferries (let alone the additional NJ and CT train riders). Common sense suggests that far more than 5,000 low income people are part of the 8.8 million who would stand to benefit from new revenue to fix the subway and congestion-free streets to accelerate buses.

            Another analysis for the Portland, OR metropolitan area used US Census data to conclude that people driving to work have higher incomes than those who take public transit, and, people driving to work during peak periods have the highest incomes by far. In Boston, the Census data points to the same fact. People taking public transportation have lower median incomes than people who drive to work.

            As for the Virginia example, few drivers ever pay the huge numbers that catch headlines. Most importantly, the tolls have done what was intended: they solved congestion. The average speed on I-66 has increased to 57 miles per hour compared to 37 mph before the toll. Still better, HOV commuters don’t pay any toll at all! There are of course still kinks to work out and it will take some time for commuters to adjust their behavior, but it has only went live in December 2017.

            NY Times article about the congestion pricing plan:

            Portland analysis:

            Boston income data for commuting:

            Greater Greater Washington article on the toll experience:

            1. Sorry Jared but I believe your comments and rationale are proven wrong with common sense.

              Your statistic on low income workers entering and leaving the city is very misleading. That is the lowest bracket possible. It does not take into consideration the struggling middle class. A majority of our population. I’m not sure which construction workers and janitors you know but many of them do leave during the beginning of congestion. As do teachers, secrateries, police officers, and every other job that pays less $100k per year.

              The average toll per day in Virginia (the one you praise) Cost the average citizen $12 per day or $60 per work week. That is thousands of dollars per year on the backs of middle class workers. Never mind that the toll only sped up the travel time by ten minutes and that a majority of people just took alternative routes.

              Sometimes common sense goes a long long way

            2. Joe, can I call you Joe? I appreciate your attempt to claim the mantle of common sense, really I do. But I don’t buy the middle America working (man) middle class shtick. It might work in Washington, but it shouldn’t work here.

              If you’re driving in from the ‘burbs, more than likely you’re paying a steep price to park in the city. If you can afford City parking rates, then you can afford to pay a dynamic toll. Maybe that means fewer lattes and avocado toasts, I’m not sure, but it’s high time we start pricing the streets. There’s no such thing as a free lunch or a freeway, and the way we’re (not) paying to maintain them now is costing us bigly.

              Sorry, Joe, but that’s just common sense.

              1. Jared,

                You have shown your true colors with this post. You are out of touch with the average American. For some reason You view the middle class, a majority of Boston workers, as avocado eating latte drinking trust fund babies. And you want to take even more money from them in order to create some sort of fantasy utopia where traffic and congestion is non existent in the middle of the city. Luckily you are not in charge. I think anybody who reads your thread will agree. Based on your last comment I’m sorry but I must end the discussion with you. It is not worth the time.

                PS…. you’ve said numerous times something on the lines of “if you don’t like the taxes move to the burbs” I think it should be more like, “Jared, if you can’t handle the noise, traffic, hustle and bustle of the big city, maybe the quiet suburbs is more fitting for you.”

    2. All good points. Not to mention government expansion and the opportunity to create more patronage. How many of the commuters are City and State workers?

    1. You mean, like driving? So will they eliminate the gas tax because THAT is a cost of driving as well.

    2. U.S. PIRG found that the average household paid $1,100 per year to subsidize driving, over and above the excise taxes, tolls, and gas taxes paid by drivers in 2015. This $1,100 is paid when the Feds, state, and cities redirect sales, income, and other taxes to pay for roads (and away from police, fire, housing, and schools). This $1,100 is paid no matter how much or often a person drives (or whether they drive at all). This is not acceptable when our infrastructure is crumbling.

      US PIRG report:

  2. what’s next. a charge for breathing? The alternative to driving, the T, is in such disrepair, it would not be worth it for people to take the T. Just another tax in Taxachusetts. The tolls on the Pike were supposed to end years ago. This will never end.

    1. If you actually cared about breathing then you might welcome this proposal for the potential to reduce the number of cars coming into the city, since their use in cities leads to higher incidences of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases.

      If you actually cared about the T, then you would welcome new dedicated sources of revenue that would be used to improve the system.

      If you actually cared about the Pike, then you would know the tolls are a vital chunk of the MassDOT budget for ongoing road maintenance (once you build it, you still need to keep it in good condition–see the T).

      If you actually live in the North End, then you would realize it’s not essential to own a car to meet all of your daily needs.

      1. first ,just making a point that we are taxed for everything we do, never going to stop. The proposal is for congestion, they don’t care about your health. all about the cash… money has been thrown at the T for years and it is still shit. stop giving away money to the higher ups in the T who don’t do a thing. same w/ mass dot and their higher ups. I’m all for pensions, but some are ridiculous. all the money we have paid til today and the roads suck. Go to new Hampshire, roads are repaved as soon as necessary. I have lived in the North End my whole life. I own a car and I use it every day because I have to.

    2. MC,you stole my thunder .My guess is that many if not of the newcomers and younger generation realize that the long suffering taxpayers of Boston and Ma.were promised that when the tolls on the Pike,Tobin bridge and the tunnels covered the cost of the construction the tolls would be eliminated .Of course these roads have been paid 10 times over. As for Jared he does not seem to understand that just throwing money at issues solves nothing.So spare me the stats please.

    3. Michael, it doesn’t much matter what you were promised, the maintenance bills still need to be paid EACH YEAR forever. Just like you need to spend money to maintain your home, the state needs to spend money to maintain the roads, and rails, and sidewalks, etc.

      The current gas tax, vehicle excise tax, tolls on the Pike, etc. are not enough. Already the feds, state, and local governments transfer revenue from sales, income, and other taxes to try to fill the funding gap. These transfers are insufficient and come at a time when we are seriously underfunding other priorities (e.g., housing and education).

      Should we redirect more money from other priorities to fund roads and roads alone or should we start charging drivers for the costs their driving incurs?

      As a bonus, doing so would help ease congestion, which decreases the real cost–in time–that people sit in traffic.

    4. Creating new sources of revenue for politicians is like giving more alcohol to an alcoholic and expecting them to stop. Between proposals like this and paying for street parking, they are inventing more backdoor ways to your income. Remember the multiyear $15 billion tunnel that was improve traffic flow and take care of congestion? How’s that working? They can create all the phoney statistics that they can imagine, but we have the billion dollar debacle right in the backyard.

  3. A lot of people driving into Boston are forced to because they need to work for a living. Instead of taxing these people, how about taxing corporations for forcing employees to drive in. Give tax subsidies to companies for letting employees telecommute. Give tax subsidies to companies to relocating outside of Boston. Charging people a tax to come to work is just evil.

    1. If charging people to use a scarce public resource is evil, then how should we pay to maintain the roads? How should we solve congestion?

      To use your word, I think it’s evil that every household pays $1,100 per year in diverted sales, income, etc. taxes to pay for roads no matter how much they drive (or whether they drive at all) over and above any excise tax, gas tax, or tolls that drivers pay (see: US PIRG).

      I think it’s evil that the $1,100 is redirected so that people can live in big homes in the ‘burbs and clog our city streets instead of using that money to pay for police, fire, housing, and schools.

      US PIRG report:

    1. According to the most recent Census data, 78% of North End commuters get to work by public transit or by walking. Investing in bike lanes seems to benefit these types of people, although unfortunately the Census does not provide data specific to commuting by bike.

      Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for ZCTA5, zip code 02113

      1. LOL Jared. I live on the bike lane. Yesterday was 70 degrees and I didn’t see one person using it. Maybe they should used the millions on millions they spent on that to improve transit instead of charging people who drive. Especially since people who drive pay taxes on their cars. People with bikes don’t contribute anything and on the top of that a majority can’t follow the simple rules of the road.

      2. Every household pays $1,100 on average per year towards road construction and maintenance, regardless of how much or whether they drive at all (U.S. PIRG, 2015). Moreover, few people bike or drive exclusively. Most people who bike also drive, so they too pay those pesky gas taxes, excise taxes, and tolls.

        Ignoring the fact that Boston Transportation funds come from a separate budget, MassDOT alone spent over $2.3 billion in 2017 on highways. From 2012 to 2017, the average spending PER YEAR was $2.5 billion. The one-time “millions on millions” spent on the cycle track is an infinitesimal number in comparison and yet the amount we spend on highways is still not enough to cover basic maintenance.

        Should we redirect more sales and income taxes from the general fund to pay for our crumbling highway infrastructure or should we ask the people who use the highways at peak times to pay their fare share?

        I know it’s annoying to sit in traffic and see someone pass by quickly on a bike lane, but study after study after study has shown that people who bike, walk, or drive all break the rules at the same rate. The biggest difference: people who bike break the rules when they perceive doing so to be safer than following the rules. People who drive tend to break the rules when it will speed up their trip (e.g., running a red light, rolling through a stop sign, etc.), the increased risk of hitting other drivers, pedestrians, etc. notwithstanding.

        > U.S. PIRG study:
        > Florida study on rulebreaking:

  4. What they are actually talking about is erecting more tolls. This is a state that is far below water in meeting its pension obligations. Massport is looking for another boondoggle.

  5. Sadly the congestion of our streets is due to all sort of issues, for example UBER adds thousands of drivers that other wise would not be on the roads, UBER has turned our streets into a business where they profit without any responsibility to the congestion they contribute to. Peapod, amazon fresh, amazon prime, ups, federal express and every modern delivery and confort that uses our streets to bring goods to people that won’t walk to the market or any retail store also burden our congested streets. To all this you have to add to the fact that progressive city governments contribute to the problem with poor city planning where stupidity out ranks common sense a perfect example are bicycle lanes one of the main contributors to Boston’s congestion. as always government creates a problem, blames citizens and then charges them to solve the problem, what a shame!!

    1. I agree with you about Uber and online shopping. It’s a shame that the surcharge assessed on Uber goes to Boston Taxi companies instead of like in Chicago where a 15 cent per ride fee funds mass transit. I hadn’t thought of assessing a similar fee on online shopping deliveries, but it’s worth considering.

      As for the assumed absurdity of bike lanes, the National Association of City Transportation Officials reported the number of people that given modes of transportation can move per hour. I suggest you look at the graphic at the link below, but a few points:

      > Cars alone is 600-1,600 people per hour
      > Two-way protected bikeway is people 7,500 per hour
      > Sidewalk is 9,000 people walking per hour

      NY Times article on Chicago’s fee:

      NACTO report:

  6. Try riding a bike to do grocery shopping or bringing an elderly parent or family to their doctors appts.and or treatments.Leave autos alone if some of you people want a cause to support a cause choose gun control and stay out of my business .

    1. Gasp! I guess the 50% of households in the North End without cars must just starve.

      Let’s also stop infantilizing the elderly. If you can’t figure out how to get around without a car, admit it, and then we can move on, but don’t blame grandma.

      I know of a lady in her late 80s who lives in Dorchester, doesn’t own a car, and gets around throughout the city–night and day–just fine. In fact, she refuses rides when people try to treat her like she’s a brittle old lady. Maybe that’s why she’s so youthful and lives on her own, in her own home to this day.

      I’m with you on gun control.

      Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for ZCTA5, zip code 02113

  7. This a self resolving issue. If commutters can’t bare the congestion any long, they will use the public transportation. Many don’t use the public transportation any longer, because it has gotten too expensive. They keep raising the T and commutter fares and continue to see ridership fall. This is just what it appears to be, just another way leach funds from working people.

      1. A good part of it is the built in patronage that has been in the system for many years. Polical favorites trying to solve engineering issues. Purchase of new trains with more maintenance issues than the old trains they replaced. Computer interfaces that are so bad that they write text books about them. No thought or even the concept of quality control. If the MBTA were a business and not taxpayer supported, they would be out of business. But then again, they would have poor management quickly replaced and they would manage the operation like their careers depended on it. Why are they raising the fares? I really don’t know, but what is apparent, riders do not get better service for the fare increase.

  8. The T is a bad joke.People sneezing and coughing in your face.Late or broken down trains ,getting an unplanned tour of the underground T tracks because your trolley is broken dow.Delays poor management infested and enabled by political hacks .More and more endless funding by the State and how much debt is the T in?

  9. Study says this, study says that. All paper pushers, not real world. bottom line is people who want or have to drive in the city are going to drive in the city. every city is different. whoever designed commercial st. did not do their homework. They created a disaster waiting to happen. Commercial st was never as congested as it is now. I agree about Uber, Lyft, & cabs .they should have a designated spot on the outskirts of the North End. Try having people call them to pick them up at their house. if that don’t work , people will have to walk to them. The deliveries are even worse. Sometimes you see peapod, ups late at night delivering. give them a window of time they can deliver. everyone has their opinion on what to do. Bottom line, nothing good is going to happen. going to get worse. That is my opinion..

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