Is New York showing up ‘progressive’ Mass.?

Empire State takes big steps on traffic, bail, plastic bags

START SPREADING THE NEWS: Not only are the Yankees a game and a half in front of the faltering Red Sox, New York has taken a big lead over Boston in dealing boldly with the carmageddon of traffic gridlock that is choking lots of American cities.

A budget deal reached between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers there will make New York City the first in the US to adopt a congestion pricing plan. Under the agreement, by 2021 a system will be established to charge motorists a fee to enter the most traffic-clogged areas of Manhattan.

Eighty percent of the millions of dollars in revenue the plan will generate will go to the beleaguered New York City subway system, a flow of funds that might have those who endured yesterday’s Red Line meltdown turn green with envy.

The budget deal also pushed New York ahead of Massachusetts on other issued favored by progressives, including a statewide ban on plastic bags, a real estate transfer surcharge on the sale of high-end homes, and the elimination of cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes.

The New York Times says Philadelphia is considering a congestion pricing plan, while Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle are all making plans to consider a similar move.

The reaction to the idea in Boston, which was recently rated as having the worst rush hour traffic in the nation? Not so fast, one might say.

A report issued in January by the city-sponsored Boston Green Ribbon Commission proposed a $5 fee for cars entering central Boston, but Mayor Marty Walsh said he’s not interested in adopting such a plan any time soon.

The Times story laid out the case for congestion pricing with a description that seems to seems to fit exactly what’s happening on Boston streets.

“Fueled by an economic boom, a revival of urban areas, a proliferation of Uber and Lyft cars and an explosive growth in package deliveries propelled by the rise of Amazon, the average speed in urban downtowns fell to 15 miles per hour last year, down from 18 miles per hour in 2015, according to INRIX, a transportation analytics company,” it said.

When it comes to highway congestion, Gov. Charlie Baker has been cool to the idea variable priced tolling, which would create incentives for drivers to shift commutes to less busy hours.

Meanwhile, the state’s gas tax has remained unchanged for six years, while MBTA riders have been hit with regular fare increases, not exactly a combination designed to get people to move out of cars and onto trains.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo told WBZ’s Jon Keller over the weekend that he’s “not ruling anything out” when it comes to new taxes, including those related to transportation, though he took note of the fact that voters in 2014 repealed the indexing of the gas tax to inflation.

Some anti-tax groups are noting that as well, making clear yesterday that they’ll take a dim view of any move to reverse that decision.

Having the gas tax bump up in line with inflation seems like an easy call for the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature, but plenty of those Democrats represent more moderate districts where such a move might not be well received. It’s the sort of issue that might test the muscle of the House Progressive Caucus, which has crowed recently about its strength (even if word that its membership had reached a new record level seems to have resulted from a miscount).

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Shudder the thought, but whether it’s taxes or fees to deal more aggressively with traffic, or moving to make statewide a plastic bag ban that is now a patchwork of municipally adopted ordinances in Massachusetts, are we just slow walking our way to eventually catching up with New York?

If so, maybe the new chant should be, “Yankees surge.”