Don’t be fooled by congestion pricing

Fees could hurt economy, drive workers away

NEARLY 700,000 PEOPLE call Boston home, and every day approximately 395,000 people head to work during the city’s peak commute hours. The majority of these trips (60 percent) originate outside of Boston, with 95,000 workers commuting alone and 36,000 choosing to carpool. Because Boston is considering charging congestion pricing fees, it’s important to know the effects these fees will have on residents, businesses, and jobs.

Congestion pricing is just one tool – and not the best tool for fighting congestion. Boston citizens and businesses already pay too many taxes and fees to work in the city. Funding aging infrastructure through a new tax is not a solution for reducing modern congestion. Congestion fees that penalize the commuters of Massachusetts puts unnecessary pressure on workers and families — the very people who power the city. These fees hold workers and businesses “hostage” by creating a major hurdle to travel into the city. We instead need to focus on powering economic activity, because growth of population and gross domestic product along with continued urbanization will continue.

Top talent is mobile and can choose where they work, and cities compete to bring in that workforce. As city, county, and state economic development agencies compete for corporate relocations, Massachusetts should be aware of the disincentives that drive workers away. Creating a deterrent to work or visit the city could have the unintended consequence of reducing employment and real estate and sales tax revenues, instead of raising revenue for the state’s coffers.

“Policymakers have an opportunity to take a proactive approach to affect the trajectory of mobility and create livable cities with convenient, clean, and cost-effective solutions,” concluded a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLC entitled An Ecosystem Approach to Reducing Congestion. (The report was commissioned by the National Parking Association.)

This approach does not have to include a new tax to combat congestion. As cities evolve, there are other ways to help alleviate traffic congestion. Creating curb-side drop-off lanes and enforcing current parking regulations on loading/unloading zones, no parking zones, and double parking in Boston is a way to start.

Mobility hubs, the parking garages of the future, will offer a new way to think about parking. Complete with rideshare drop-off space, package delivery storage, and autonomous vehicle parking, mobility hubs will encourage people to use the “park-once” approach, where commuters park once and use other modes of transportation (bikes, buses, subways, or rideshare) to navigate the city and keep roadways open.

“Ill-considered and reactive choices that don’t consider the entire transportation ecosystem—including parking – are more likely to exacerbate congestion. The concept of parking as a mobility hub could be an efficient approach to effectively move people in and around cities,” the PricewaterhouseCoopers study says.

Meet the Author

Christine Banning

President, National Parking Association
As cities and states across the nation focus on the future of transportation, especially when it comes to reducing congestion, let’s get infrastructure projects off the books and into the cities. Let’s remove outdated regulations, and enforce those most often violated. Let’s make it easier, not pricier, for citizens, consumers, and businesses to thrive here.

Christine Banning is the president of the National Parking Association, which conducts research on parking and reducing congestion. She has led the organization for eight years.