Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Metro West case for (smart) toll hikes

With local legislators whipped into a frenzy to stop the toll hikes, it might pay to stop and reflect on who would benefit if the tolls went up: Metro West commuters.

A toll hike is going to take drivers off the road. I don't think that's a controversial claim. While some portion of the population is locked into a choice-less commute, some are not. Witness the steadily decreasing Pike usage figures as gas prices rose. Some people had a choice and chose not to drive.

It won't take a huge decrease in peak traffic to improve congestion. That person paying nearly double to get from Newton to downtown is going to find the commute's a whole heckuva lot easier without all those pesky drivers-with-choice around.

And, time is money, especially for small business owners, who will find that it takes less time to get goods and services (perhaps delivered by the small businesswomen herself) downtown.

But, the congestion relief is minimized if there isn't a benefit to traveling off-peak for those who can. If it's going to cost me the same at 7:00 AM as at 10:00, I've lost my incentive to travel off-peak.

There have to be some more well-to-do suburbanite commuters who are salivating at the chance to speed their commute for a few thousand a year. The less well-to-do might not be so unhappy at the prospect of premium-priced, exclusionary commuting, if the premium the fat cats pay subsidizes their off-peak commute.

Matt Yglesias makes a similar point regarding congestion pricing in general. Matt's commenters have a ball debating queue v. price rationing, regressivity, and redistribution.


Doug Cornelius said...

The toll hikes will overwhelm the Route 16 on ramp in West Newton. There was big increase in traffic at that on ramp when they took down the tollbooth. I suspect more people will drive down 16 to avoid the $2 toll at 128.

Lets get the Pike to put that tollbooth back up.

Anonymous said...

Reinstating toll at Exit 16 in Newton
November 11, 2008 · No Comments
Just to make sure the western suburbs pay for the Big Dig, Govenor Patrick is proposing the dismantling of Mass Turnpike Authority and placing roads east of 128 in the hands of Massport. In addition to this, all toll west of 128 would be removed with the exception of the toll plaza at Stockbridge which connects I 84 with Connecticut and I 90 with New York State. Well that seems fair doesn’t it? You can drive 50+ miles for free, but if you drive from Newton to Copley (about 5 miles) you will pass 2 toll booths. The biggest benefactors of the Big Dig are the North and South shore and yet they don’t pay any tolls on 93. Massport now runs the airport and seaport so you can see how that experience translates into assuming the role of the Turnpike Authority, which is already 2.2 billion dollars in debt. WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? How does running Logan and the Seaport qualify you to manage the Mass Turnpike? Where is the money coming from? If Patick wants Massport to assume responsibility for the Mass Pike (and keep it as a toll road) than they should also assume responsibility of all Mass highways. A toll booth at Exit 16 will increase pollution, traffic, and have a negative impact on the City of Newton. Tolls do put the burden on the people who use the highways, however, let’s eliminate all manned booths, build “open road tolls” as they already have in other states, and require a transponder. Since transponders clearly eliminate traffic back ups they should be free. Transponders save time, eliminate unnecessary employees, and reduce pollution caused by idling cars. The towns inside 128 should not bear the burden of all the highways in Mass. Why is driving the Mass Pike different than driving 495 or 128? What added benefits are we getting? All vehicle drivers should pay their fair share, Pike drivers also pay a gas and income tax that is used to maintain all of Mass highways, so why the extra fee assessed to them by way of tolls? Why don’t other drivers contribute to the Pike, since Pike drivers contribute to other roads? Let’s have one highway authority that has control of all Mass roads and distribute the burden evenly.


Jan Gilpin said...

What can't they incorporate some kind of toll system with the HOV lane and exempt the HOV lane from tolls to encourage car pooling? That would address congestion and also be more fair to us western suburbs.