To clarify, the so-far-not-TAB-endorsed Newton Charge would apply only to one set of drivers, those who pass through Newton on their way to somewhere else.
Why charge even them?
There are two important aspects of any fee for access:
- Imposing on drivers a direct cost for driving
- Discriminating among different drivers
Driving is an enormously subsidized activity that has all sorts of negative impacts on a community. We need to raise the cost of driving to both discourage driving and also to raise revenue that can be used to offset the negative impacts. A stiff gas tax would generally work to discourage driving, but it isn't an ideal mechanism to raise revenue to address those places most affected by traffic.
We should discriminate among different drivers, and the Newton Charge will.
There are, generally speaking, four kinds of traffic in Newton:
- Wholly intra-Newton trips, those that begin and end in Newton—my house to City Hall and back
- Trips by Newtonians that begin or end outside of Newton—My house to my friend's house in Brookline
- Trips by non-Newtonians that end or start in Newton—The couple from Needham driving to Johnny's for Sunday brunch
- Trips by non-Newtonians that start and end outside of Newton—the professional from Wellesley using Boylston Street to get to her job in Boston
The Newton Charge will only apply to the last set of trips, those that use Newton roads to pass from one town to another.
While there are subsets of the first three types of trip that might be worth discouraging—like unnecessarily driving kids to school—these are not generally trips that are problematic. Categories one and two involve Newton residents. They are entitled to use the roads they pay for. Category three involves non-Newton residents who are engaged with Newton. They are working, playing, worshiping, or spending in Newton. Those are not activities that we want to discourage.
But, why give the same access to our roads to people who are not either Newtonians or engaged in Newton? Why allow free travel through our city? Why allow pass-through drivers to add to the already too big traffic problem in our fair city? Among other things, the category four drivers compete with Newtonians or those engaged with Newton for limited capacity.
Look at this through the lens of the proposed development at Chestnut Hill Square. The developer expects the development will add 11,000 daily car trips to Boylston Street, all of which would fall into categories one through three. That many trips added to existing capacity is going to break the system. But, what if we were able to take some of the load out of the system by discouraging the category four drivers from driving through Newton and taking public transportation instead? We'd have more capacity available for trips by Chestnut Hill Square residents or for trips by Chestnut Hill Square shoppers, either of which is preferable to pass-through trips.
In future posts, the technical feasibility of the Newton Charge, its relationship to transit, and its regional impact.