A different take on congestion pricing

London, Seattle, Singapore prove approach is not harmful

GETTING AROUND GREATER BOSTON can be a nightmare, and it’s holding back our economy and quality of life. With traffic apps showing a spidery network of solid red roadways from dawn until well into the evening, we’ve gone past the era of “rush hour” into a near-constant state of urban gridlock.

That reality is obvious to anyone who lives here. Apparently it is less obvious to the DC-based National Parking Association, which recently wrote an op-ed in Commonwealth urging Massachusetts not to adopt congestion pricing as an important tool to fix our clogged roads.

This is a particularly puzzling position for an organization that represents private parking facilities, which have been implementing congestion pricing for decades and know that it can better manage a limited resource.

Heaps of research show the impacts of congestion on Massachusetts businesses and employees. The national data firm INRIX estimates that the average driver in Greater Boston wastes $2,000 per year in congestion, or more than $300 per month for a household with two drivers. A recent MassINC poll sounded the alarm of people contemplating leaving the Greater Boston area all together due to the cost and stress of long commutes.

Beyond the statistics, any car or bus commuter can tell you what congestion costs them personally: lost time with family, missed appointments, and an overall worse quality of life due to the uncertainty of whether a routine trip will take 25 minutes or two hours. For employers, it means a looming crisis in recruiting and retaining talent. A Better City hears about these concerns every day from the 130 Greater Boston employers we represent. For a worker with multiple job options, who would make the choice to develop a career that involves hours in the car every day?

As a public resource, our streets suffer from many of the problems that our utility systems would face if we didn’t charge for usage: over-consumption and poor service. Without electricity and water bills, there would be little incentive to conserve energy, purchase more efficient appliances, or turn off lights when not in use. We would need to build more power plants – increasing costs and worsening air quality – and would still likely experience shortages.  Road space, like fuel or groundwater, is finite.

Cities around the world are creating example after example that demand-based pricing systems are effective and can be implemented equitably. Far from the dire scenario posed by the National Parking Association that demand-based pricing could lead to Boston’s economic decline, these cities are some of the most dynamic, growing, and economically vibrant in the world — places like London, Seattle and Singapore.

We can learn from the proven success of other cities in better managing our roads, supporting improved transit options, and reducing carbon emissions from vehicles through congestion and other pricing options.

Meet the Author
There is a growing recognition – both in the Commonwealth and globally – that we need to move more people in fewer vehicles. By better pricing our scarce road space and using this to invest in the infrastructure of the future, we will put Boston at a competitive advantage while making life better for the hundreds of thousands of Greater Boston who choose to work and contribute to our region.

Kathryn Carlson is director of transportation at the business group A Better City.