Friday, November 2, 2007

Introducing the Newton Charge

I live on a cut-through. People cut down my street to avoid traffic on Boylston Street.

Boylston Street itself is a cut-through. A large number of people drive the length of Boylston from the Wellesley line to Brookline without stopping. These people add nothing to the Newton economy but traffic, congestion, pollution, noise, heartache, &c.

My solution (to the latter problem) is the Newton Charge (a name I almost surely will change). The Newton Charge is a fluctuating fee to be paid by any motorist who enters Newton and exits within a period that reasonably precludes the possibility of having stopped to dine at one of our restaurants, to visit one of our residents, to enjoy one of our parks, or to patronize any of our commercial establishments.

You drive through without stopping, you pay a small fee to offset the costs of your driving.

At this point, I'm thinking that the city border will be divided into 6 or 7 gates. As you drive on a road that passes through the gate (Boylston Street at the Wellesley line, Galen Street at the Watertown line, Commonwealth Avenue at the Weston line, &c.) you'd pass by FastLane and license plate readers. (This is already standard technology in use in London, Stockholm, and anywhere else where there is congestion pricing.)

The system would note your entry through the gate. The system would note your exit through another gate. If you come into one gate and out another gate within a certain amount of time, you'd be considered a passer-through and be charged. If you go in through one gate and back out the same gate, you would not be considered a passer-through. If you go in one gate and out another gate, but the time between is long enough, you will be considered to have stopped in Newton and will not be charged.

The price would depend on both your entry and exit gate and the time of day. More for longer trips during peak times. Less for shorter trips at night.

If you come into Newton on Needham Street and fifteen minutes later enter Boston on Beacon Street, you didn't stop at Sweet Tomatoes for a slice along the way. We'll charge you $.50 during evening and morning rush hours and $.25 at other times.

Traffic on the 'Pike would be exempt, but we will consider that you have passed through a gate if you get on or off. So, no cutting through Newton to avoid the tolls.

Split the revenue three ways:

  1. To Newton for road maintenance and to finance traffic calming
  2. To the Commonwealth for road maintenance on state-maintained roads
  3. To the MBTA to finance improvements to public transit
More on this idea and how it relates to Chestnut Hill Square in another post.


Todd said...

Brilliant! But good luck getting that one put into the law. Can you imagine the squaking?

jo said...

I live immediately at that Comm Ave/Weston Line border and I would love to see it happen. People fly down Auburn and Comm like it i the second thruway, lights, congestion, pedestrians and speed signs be damned.

Pierce said...

Fair enough as long as we Bostonians get to assess an equal tariff on any good that comes through a boston port or on a truck that travels through the city of Boston without that good contributing to the city.

The city is a center of transfer for goods from sea, air, rail, and road, but its a little unfair for me to have to deal with the congestion and pollution that are associated with the movement of goods that neither originate or terminate in this city. Suburbs like Newton piggyback on the infrastructure of this city free of charge-- pull your weight and I'll have no problem whatsoever dropping 50 cents in the bucket next time I happen to be going to Wellesley

Todd said...


See what I mean?

Sean Roche said...


As I'll explain in a future post, I think that all cities in the metropolitan area should be part of a rational road-pricing scheme, Boston included.

Boston does get some tax benefit from goods arriving at the port and transferred to trucks for transport to other towns and states, though I have no objection to additional tolls being placed to encourage more rail transport.

As for stuff just passing through Boston, absolutely, Boston should charge a toll.

The key is that the charges to pass through municipalities would be regulated such that a trip through multiple towns or cities would not be much more costly than an equivalent trip on the Mass Pike. I would probably advocate for a small surcharge relative to Pike tolls to encourage through traffic onto limited access interstates rather than local surface roads.

Newton and Brookline would get some serious revenue if through traffic on Boylston Street cost a dollar in each town. It costs two bucks to go from 128 to Boston along the Pike, and it's going up. Why shouldn't the same trip cost two bucks along Boylston Street?