Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Peak pricing on the 'pike

At some point, somebody's going to figure out that the technology exists to charge market-based tolls on the Central Artery and we'll be on the way to addressing some real problems.

Backing up, there is a proposal to institute peak pricing on the Mass Pike, along with adding new technology that will allow transponder-equipped cars to travel faster through the toll plazas. This is a welcome relief from plans that call for lower tolls.

We should not be reducing any disincentive to drive, even though there is currently a wicked imbalance between what east-west commuters and north-south commuters pay. The answer to the imbalance problem is to charge the north-south commuters more, which is to say that we should be charging them something. (I'm sure there's some provision in the Central Artery funding legislation that prohibits tolls. That would have to be changed.)

The good thing is that this latest proposal points the way. The technology is becoming available to charge tolls without the physical infrastructure of toll plazas. That technology is what makes congestion pricing possible. And, that technology could be used to charge tolls on the Central Artery.

Of course, any plan to increase tolls would need to consider the ripple effect on mass transit and on secondary roads. It's a complex ecosystem.

One troubling thing about this latest proposal: the aim is to increase revenue for the Turnpike Authority. At least some of the money should be earmarked for mass transit improvements. The aim of peak pricing is to move some drivers to alternative transportation. Those alternatives need to be better.

Integrated traffic strategy
No pike toll, increased gas tax

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