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Congestion Zone for Boston?

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Fee eyed for those who drive into Hub

By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff  |  March 30, 2005

A city councilor is looking to turn Boston into a commuter toll zone so that people who drive into the city would have to pay to enter.

Saying the half-million commuters who drive into Boston each day are major contributors to traffic and parking congestion, Councilor Paul J. Scapicchio wants the city to look into requiring passes costing $1 to $5 daily and catching scofflaws by installing cameras to record license plates of cars crossing over from the suburbs without the passes. Today, he will ask for a council hearing to explore the idea.

Modeling his proposal on a similar program in London and an effort under consideration in San Francisco, Scapicchio said the fees would help fund public transit and road improvements in a city that has struggled in recent years.

''This program could remedy three problems: congestion, pollution, and the lack of revenue," said Scapicchio. ''This could discourage the use of our overburdened roadways and create a revenue source to fix our falling bridges and pothole-filled streets."

Such a measure would probably encounter stiff resistance from major downtown employers and from retailers that depend on the daily tide of shoppers pouring into the city. The Legislature, which would have to approve any tax increase for Boston, could also stand in the way, as it has on several recent tax proposals from the city.

But conservationists and some public officials, including Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Frederick P. Salvucci, the former state transportation secretary, already say they like the idea.

''Anything we could do to help reduce congestion on the streets of our city, we're willing to take a serious look at," Menino said.

Scapicchio, who represents the North End, emphasized that the idea is in the early stages and said council hearings would be the first step in a process of hammering out the best proposal. He said he would use London's program as a starting point for discussions.

Under that plan, motorists driving into an 8-square-mile section of London between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. require a $10 pass that can be purchased ahead of time online, over the phone, or at locations throughout the area. A network of more than 700 cameras photographs drivers' licenses plates. Drivers without the passes are fined at least $90.

Six months after the system took effect in February 2003, traffic was reduced by 18 percent, with a 30 percent reduction in auto traffic and a 20 percent increase in bus and taxi ridership, according to the Commission for Integrated Transport, which advises the British government.

...

''Boston is a transit-oriented city, but it's certainly not London," he said. ''It really has to be considered carefully. Kudos to Scapicchio for putting the idea on the table. It's the kind of thing we should be looking for."

Philip Warburg, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said the plan could reduce pollution in Boston at the same time it is funding key transportation projects, such as an extension of the Green Line from Lechmere to Medford and linking the Blue and Red lines at Charles Street and Massachusetts General Hospital.

''The Commonwealth faces very severe funding constraints in honoring transit commitments that it made 15 years ago and reaffirmed in the year 2000," he said. ''It behooves the Commonwealth to come up with the necessary funding mechanisms to deliver on those transit commitments."

...

Some, however, said they would grudgingly accept fees if the money went toward commuting alternatives.

''If I had to pay to drive into the city, I would much prefer that it go into public transit," said Jim Kerr, a lawyer from Lexington. ''If it were properly invested I would feel less resentful."

Continue Reading at Boston.com

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Same response I had in the ArchBoston forum, dumbest idea ever. It will not increase T usage that much, as the T is already overburdened. It will just scare growth and business away from Boston, which is not what we need. Bostonians already have to deal with ridiculous prices on everything, why make it more expensive to travel to the city. It will also negatively affect tourism. This idea is pure wishful thinking, and it won't work. To me, charging people money to go to a city is un-American. Don't trample my right to go where I want, free of charge (this whole situation is different from tolls, mind you).

Please God, save us from ourselves.

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Businesses are leaving the areas in London where this policy is played out, so no worries....this is just hot air.

But, the MBTA does need to be fully supported by the state and feds, just like the roads, because like roads, there are free-rider issues with all huge capital projects.

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I agree with Benhamin that this is a stupid idea. Charge me money to go to Boston, and I'll think twice before I go there. Although it may increase ridership on the T, I believe it would more likely keep people from using anything at all and instead go to smaller cities around Boston or their own cities. I do not believe this law could and will ever make it precisely for these reasons.

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^ If businesses ARE leaving, then that would help my argument. Did you mean to type aren't leaving?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I'm agreeing that business will head toward lower costs.

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^ gotcha. I really don't understand why people can think Boston can pull this off. Our transit certainly isn't London. Maybe NYC, but even then, I have my doubts.

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I saw Scapicchio on Greater Boston last night. He's not proposing that we implement this plan next week. It is something that he believes the city should consider and study. Undoubtedly there would need to be more buses serving the downtown area if this plan were to go into effect for example, you can't just throw up some cameras and go, it'll fail, he knows that. It took London 3 years of planning and discussion to create their congestion zone. Scapicchio simply feels that now is the time to start the discussion, it may be 3 or 5 years before a system is created, or after discussion, it may be decided to never do it, but the discussion should be had.

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