James Aloisi talks up VMT, parking fees

By Gabrielle Gurley

Most of the revenue-generating remedies for the state’s ailing transportation networks are “feasible,” “viable” and “doable.” Problem is they aren’t getting done. Which brings us to former Transportation Secretary James Aloisi.

In one of his first major public appearances since he left his post last November, Aloisi pitched two not-so-new ideas — taxes on mileage and parking — to help fund mass transit in metro Boston and across the state at a Wednesday talk billed as “innovative solutions” and sponsored by the Conservation Law Foundation.

The first proposal, a perennial favorite, involved levying fees on drivers based on the miles they travel — a.k.a, “vehicle miles traveled,” or VMT. Aloisi proposed levying a 5-cent-per-mile surcharge on interstate highways, a tax that would generate $550 million each year. Add in the state highway system, and revenues double to more than $1 billion, he claimed.

Anticipating the howls of protest from western Massachusetts, Aloisi said that car-dependent commuters in rural areas would pay a smaller base rate. Drivers in densely populated areas with better transit options would see higher charges.  Concluding that VMT is eminently “fair” since motorists pay based on usage and officials could vary the rates charged (more at peak times, less at off peak hours), he pronounced the surcharge “feasible.”

A RAND report released earlier this month backs up the former secretary on VMT.  Fuel taxes haven’t kept pace with inflation or advances in fuel economy, so state and federal transportation revenues have bottomed out.

Aloisi’s second proposal took on parking. He suggested a carbon impact fee levied on the owners of commercial parking areas of 50 or more spaces (such as your favorite big box store) in the MBTA service area and an additional $2 assessment on individual parking at Logan Airport.

Aloisi acknowledged that he was preaching to the choir at the CLF event, noting that the room was full of mass transit advocates and policymakers who have long been sold on the need to raise revenues for public transportation. But not surprisingly, the former secretary came up short when asked how to go about building a broad-based political coalition to push VMT or any other revenue generator. Instead, he underlined that it was “way past time” for action. “There’s nothing easier than delay,” he said. “It’s so relaxing.”

And so it goes.