Gas tax and (smart) toll hike

Cross-posted at Newton Streets & Sidewalks

If nothing else, Friday’s decision by the soon-to-expire Turnpike Authority to jack Pike tolls through the roof has rendered a statement in favor of a gas tax hike restoration fit for polite company. Even Howie Carr recognizes the virtues of a higher gas tax. (From Dan Kennedy. I haven’t listened to Howie since I stopped my Pike commute.)

But, it shouldn’t be an either/or. We need an increase in the gas tax to more directly and equitably pay for road and bridge construction and maintenance … and to help finance more mass transit. We need a smart toll hike to both provide additional revenue and to make better use of Pike capacity. And, we need virtual tolls on I-93 for the same additional-revenue and capacity-management reasons as on the Pike and because it would be more equitable.

More after you pay the toll the jump …

Set aside the virtuous reasons for a gas tax hike. We need a gas tax hike because we can’t afford to build and maintain our transportation infrastructure. If cars and trucks need more and better roads and bridges, then it should fall more directly on car and truck drivers to pay for them. It’s little wonder that the state has no money for roads, bridges, and transit. The price of a gallon of gas has nearly tripled since 1991 (compared to the recent, relatively low prices), and the state’s take has stayed the same: $0.21. If you were to simply apply the same effective rate as in 1991, the tax would be nearly $0.75. Imagine the shiny bridges and pothole-free roads the state could afford with more than three times the gas tax revenue. I would also suggest that a portionof any higher gas tax be distributed to municipalities for snow-clearing so that drivers bear that burden more directly, too.

If the state were to raise the gas tax, why bother raising tolls on the Pike or applying new tolls on 93? Two reasons. One, because those roads are expensive to maintain and there’s a huge debt service on the Big Dig that’s fair to allocate to Boston-area Pike and 93 traffic. Second, because there is congestion on both. The second reason demands not a simple toll hike, but a smart one: a peak-pricing scheme that will alleviate congestion at times of highest demand.

During heaviest use, there are two types of drivers in a Pike backup: those who are willing to put up with the traffic, but less willing to put up with a higher toll and those who would be willing to pay a higher — even substantially higher — toll if it would lead to a shorter trip time. It’s a lousy allocation of demand. The second group is really inconvenienced by the first group, but there’s no mechanism to keep the first group off the highway during peak times.

Raise the toll during the peak time and and the first group would avoid a toll hike by using the pike off-peak. (Some would use alternative routes, which is why a toll hike should also include mitigation to cities and towns likely to get cut-through traffic.) The second group would get the benefit of a premium toll. During rush hour, the Pike would be used by the people who value it most.

The benefit would be probably be even more dramatic on 93, where there is much heavier commercial traffic. It might be worth a lot more than the peak-pricing premium for a business owner to get his or her truck through Boston without the typical delay. That premium would help subsidize travel for those who are willing to go at a different time.

Higher gas tax? Absolutely. But, raise the tolls, too. Only not all the time.

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26 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. tolls are bad tax policy

    I once had the opportunity to hear Senator Susan Tucker give testimony at a state house hearing around a year ago. I'm sure I'll butcher what she said, but she laid out how tax policy should be formed, giving four criteria. Here's a few that tolls fail:

    1. Is it fair and equitable? Does it impact the poor more than the rich? Does it shoulder the burden around so no one group is forced to pay too much.

    2. Is it efficient? Does it take a lot of money to collect that tax?

    3. Is it consistent? Will it bring in a steady amount of cash year in and year out?

    I honestly can't remember the fourth measure on the top of my head, but certainly tolls fail all of the first three. As gas has become more expensive and people have switched over to public transit in record numbers, less people drive. Less tolls are collected. The highways systems have trouble finding finance for their projects.

    Furthermore, I couldn't think of a less efficient means of taxing a populace than collecting tolls - a large majority of all the money tolls bring back goes straight back into the salaries of toll workers.

    And is it fair and equitable? Well, let's see, North Shore residents and residents who are Metro West pay around $2,000 a year to use the same roads that South Shore residents pay nothing. Furthermore, with tolls, you're asking Boston commuters earning $35k a year, driving used Honda Civics if they're lucky, to pay the same amount as execs earning hundreds of thousands or millions, driving SUVs and other gas guzzlers that do more damage to the environment and the roads.

    Beyond that, no one group of people should be forced to pay for an entire project of the mass and scale of the Big Dig; that burden must be shared, as with the burden of every major construction project. If cities and towns were directly responsible for paying for only the projects necessary for their city and town, our entire infrastructure would chaotic at best. More likely, it would be nonexistent. We obviously have to find a way to fund our roads, bridges and public transportation, but tolls aren't a logical way to do it. Even if we found a way to make tolls pass the first, most important measure - make it fair and equitable - it could never solve the other two, being consistent and an efficient means to collect taxes.  

    • I disagree.

      1. Is it fair and equitable? Does it impact the poor more than the rich? Does it shoulder the burden around so no one group is forced to pay too much.

      Many poor people don't pay tolls.  They don't own cars and live in the city.  They ride commuter rail or the bus because they can't afford city parking.

      I'd bet if you plotted income and average toll payment, you'd see that it's increasing up to some relatively large income level.  That would make it fair.

      There's some interesting things going on with distance from Boston.  Closer bedroom communities might be more expensive [Newton] but might not [Quincy].  Still, the gist is there.  The poorest pay very little in tolls.

      Also important, those who use the road pay for the road.  The road didn't cost less to build because you're in a Honda Civic Hybrid instead of a F-150.  Yet the Honda Civic Hybrid driver will pay far less in gas tax to drive the length of the road than the F-150 driver.  That isn't fair either.  And before you mention damage to the road again, damage is a function of the square [or cube?] of the weight, so the damage of each is negligible when compared to 18 wheelers, so that argument has no gas.

      2. Is it efficient? Does it take a lot of money to collect that tax?

      "a large majority of all the money tolls bring back goes straight back into the salaries of toll workers. "  Do you really mean that Ryan?  More than 50% of toll receipts go to salaries of toll workers?  I'm not so sure.  In fact, I'm sure you're wrong.  Based on the 03-04 budget: --- Operations and public protection: $132M General and administration: $23M Fringe benefits: $17M Retirement: $10M --- Repair and reconstruction: $20M Depreciation: $76M Interest expense: $128M ---

      Total spent on employees, including non-salary benefits and including those who don't actually collect tolls [like plow drivers and traffic enforcement]: $182 million

      Total expenses: $407 million.

      Therefore, toll collection must make up less than half of the costs of the Mass Pike, and how much less depends on how much of that $132 goes to toll collectors and how much to other employees.  Expensive?  Sure.  Majority?  Nope.

      3. Is it consistent? Will it bring in a steady amount of cash year in and year out?

      Is there any reason to think it's more or less consistent than a gas tax, which is also a use tax?  I'd argue that it's more consistent.  After all, if car use declines both gas tax and toll revenue fall.  But as the fuel efficiency of vehicles improve over time [required by CAFE], the gas tax revenue will go down but the number of trips on the Pike won't.  Toll revenue may be more consistent than gas tax revenue.

      Tolls in principle aren't unfair.  The tolls in Massachusetts aren't fair because they nail E-W drivers but N-S drivers skate.  How to fix all of this?

      (a) Drive down costs to collect tolls.  FastLane has certainly helped, and helping more people choose to get FastLane will continue to help.  For example, some rental car companies provide a transponder now. (b) De-hackify.  I'm not a BMG cynic who believes that all of government is filled with overpaid, underqualified, disinterested employees.  But, I do believe the Mass Pike has more than a handful.  Let's clean it up and bring in management with the skills to run this kind of operation. (c) Collect N-S tolls too.  It's fair and it's responsible.  Use the revenue to fund local snow plowing as well as infrastructure improvements, thereby giving some aid to cities and towns, making bridges safer, and keeping people working. (d) Use variable rate tolling.  Road congested?  Price goes up.  Driving a high mpg vehicle?  Price is lower.  Got 3 or more people during rush hour?  Discount.  You're driving an 18-wheeler during rush hour?  Price much higher.  Yankees bumper sticker?  Sorry we're closed.  You get the idea. (e) Congestion pricing.  It may be possible to use the infrastructure to allow Boston/Cambridge to employ congestion pricing like London has and NYC wants.

      • What he or she said!

      • Blissfully idealistic

        But thoroughly impractical.

        (a) Drive down costs to collect tolls:  The lines to go through the manual booths are absurdly long now.  If that plus the current fast lane discount (inside 128) aren't enough motivation I don't know what is.  Of course if we eliminate the tolls this problem goes away. (b) De-hackify:  How???  Royal decree?  "I hereby declare you de-hackified.  So it is and so it shall be."  Of course if we eliminate the tolls this problem goes away. (c) Collect N-S tolls too:  Longer commutes, more carbon emissions, more hack jobs.  Of course if we eliminate the tolls this problem goes away. (d) Variable rate tolling:  Let's make this really complicated.  I'm sure there's someone at MIT that can write an algorithm that the toll collector can run for every vehicle that passes through.  This should really speed things up. Of course if we eliminate the tolls we solve this problem. (e) Ibid.

        There is no practical and completely fair way to pay for the Big Dig.  Someone who isn't a stakeholder is going to pay for a piece of it.  There's no way around that.  A gas tax is not perfect, but it is simple and efficient.  It is unfair to those in the western part of the state.  A one time earmarked zip code based tax surcharge on registered vehicles might help level the playing field, but I think it is politically impossible to get there.

        • Blissfully proven

          The single easiest way to reduce commutes and lower carbon emissions is to do variable rate tolling. It's quite simple. Establish and publish what the peak periods are. During those peak periods charge one price. During off-peak, charge another. As David pointed out, that's the way it's done on bridges and tunnels between NYC and New Jersey. Follow the link and take a look at the chart. It's really very simple to follow. And, I'm not an MIT grad!

          As stomv pointed out, remove just a small portion of peak traffic and you can see significant reduction in congestion, which means much faster commutes and lower emissions.

          • What's the goal?

            Raise revenue or reduce emissions?  A gas tax should do both.   Will variable rate tolling increase revenue?  Not clear and I tend to doubt it.

            Having tolls on certain roads and not others (in the highways vs. local roads context) creates inefficiencies in the flow of traffic.  If the right price for a highway is x, it makes no sense that the right price for the alternative route on the local road is zero. Highway tolls result in a random and unfair shift of the traffic burden to adjacent roads and communities.  Since they create inefficiencies in traffic flow overall time on the road increases and creates both a time tax and excess emissions.  

            I think comparisons to Manhattan are not very relevant.  The metro area is much more densely populated than Boston and it is an island!  Ain't a lot of local road options to get across the rivers.

      • That's still

        an infinitely more expensive way to tax than just raising the gas tax, Stomv. A tax that costs about 50% to collect of what it brings in should be unacceptable, when there's better options on that table that would bring in 95-99%. Why use a tax method that costs significant funds to collect the revenue to begin with, adding to the burden that people already face in paying taxes, when we have other ways to tax that cost less to collect and therefore put more money in people's pockets.

        Also, you totally warped my first point - on inequity. It's simply not fair to ask one group of people to pay, while others don't, even beyond the rich/poor arguments. That someone in the South Shore doesn't pay while others do who don't live there is completely unfair.

        Furthermore, with public transportation's costs skyrocketing, it's absurd to suggest that the state's working and middle class should just take public transit instead of commuting. $5 a day to park at Wonderland for someone in Lynn, Salem or Peabody is a lot of money. People who make more should have to give more, taking tolls is still asking people earning $25-40k to pay the same as people making $500k... and not all of those can take public transportation and it's honestly no cheaper for these people to do so than to pay those $7 tolls.

        On adding tolls: I keep hearing about these mythical N-S tolls that could be built. They're about as real and likely as elves springing out of Lynn Woods. I'd sooner see a gnome in my backyard than I will a toll on Route 93. These tolls are pure fantasy. Where's the state going to put them? On the bridges? How will the roads be widened? How long would it take? How many tens of millions would it cost? Who's going to pay for it? Who's going to vote for it?

        I'm a pragmatist. I seek real solutions to real problems. The tolls are a problem right now. It's much easier to get rid of the few we have than add one to every street corner in order to make things fair. That's why we have a gas tax. It's the easiest solution to the real problems of this state (the infrastructure) as well as the manufactured ones that we cause to our own selves for extra fun, ignorance and spite (the tolls). We could have an academic conversation about all the wonderful ideas you have - peak pricing, new tolls, flying automobiles, whatever - but it's a whole lot easier and cheaper, and almost certainly fairer, to just increase the gas tax. Keeping government simple is to the benefit of its citizens.

      • Keep it simple

        You can't have a very complicated toll schedule that is collected automatically. Computers can count cars pretty reliably and ensure that every car that drives through either has a toll transponder or is photographed for ticketing. But they can't count passengers or reliably determine what type of car is being driven (other than the size). You could give people different transponders for different types of cars, but it would be hard to verify that people aren't cheating. So I don't see any way to have a lower toll for carpooling or high-mpg cars unless you have people collecting all the tolls, which slows things down a lot.

        I don't think congestion pricing is a good idea. Whether a road will have heavy traffic or not is hard to predict in advance. Once someone has been stuck in heavy traffic for a while, they don't want to get hit with a higher toll on top of the long, frustrating wait. Time-based pricing can work because people can decide when to leave and know what the toll will be. But most people aren't going to listen to the traffic report to decide when to leave. And if you are driving in for half an hour or more, traffic conditions can change by the time you get to the city.

        Most rental car companies do allow you to rent a toll transponder. They also charge a fair bit for it. I doubt anyone saves money by renting the transponder. If the state required rental companies to provide them at no extra cost, that would increase usage. But allowing the rental companies to loan them out for $10/day will not.

        In order for congestion pricing to work, you have to make sure that it isn't easy to drive around. I really think a more sensible way to do congestion pricing is to increase the tax on parking spaces. Why bother building toll booths on every road into the city when you can just raise the rates on the meters and increase the taxes that parking lots have to pay. Very few people drive through the city when traffic is heavy. Most of them are driving into it.

        • Congestion pricing is simple

          Congestion pricing doesn't change based on actual congestion in real time. Prices are set and postedbased on expected traffic. While the can be adjusted over time, adjustments would be made with plenty of notice.

  2. on the peak use argument

    I feel bad that I didn't address that part of your argument, but I just don't believe it is going to work in the way that you intended. People have to go to work and often don't have a choice in when they do it. Given the fact that pretty much every route to get into Boston, save route 93, has tolls, where are people going to commute longer to save money?

    Furthermore, I don't understand where these mythical route 93 tolls will be added. The roads simply weren't built for tolls. Not only will adding tolls - with 'peak use' - not alleviate traffic, but I'd but everything I'm worth (which isn't much) that they'd increase it over the areas where there are no tolls now. And I haven't even begun discussing how expensive it could be to widen the roads where those tolls would need to be located. I don't think it's an accident that the South Shore just doesn't happen to have tolls before people head into the tunnel; there's no where to put them.

    Even if there were, we need policy that makes sense. Tolls don't. Paying people 2 out of every 3 dollars they collect seems like a pretty crappy way of funding our transportation system. I'd much prefer a system that collects 95-99 dollars out of 100, which a gas tax would accomplish.  

    • South Shore

      I'll tell you why there weren't any tolls on the South Shore.  Because the SE Expressway and Route 3 pale in comparison to routes into Boston from the North and West.  I shudder to think what commuting would be like with a toll implemented anywhere on the South Shore.  It's bad enough as it is; don't need any more obstacles thrown in the way...

      I get the feeling that we're all being played for suckers with that ridiculous toll story from last Friday; the ground has been laid (and properly so, if you can get BMG and Howie Carr to agree to the same thing) for increasing the gasoline tax.

      • i agree with you

        I don't think you should have any tolls, I just don't think we should either. And I agree with your feeling too - and hope that it's true.  

      • The South Shore

        Doesn't have tolls because that's where the most important people and hacks working in our state governmemt live. That's why. Simple as that.

    • Don't believe... but the data shows it works

      I feel bad that I didn't address that part of your argument, but I just don't believe it is going to work in the way that you intended. People have to go to work and often don't have a choice in when they do it.

      It works.  It's working wonders now in California.

      Traffic congestion is nonlinear.  A small reduction in the number of vehicles can have a profound improvement on throughput.

      It's true that not everybody can change their work schedules.  But, some can.  Some can go earlier and read the newspaper at their desk instead of alone in their kitchen.  Some can work from home for an hour or two before going in for their 10:00 meeting.  With the higher peak tolls, some will figure out how to telecommute some days.

      Additionally, not everybody in rush hour traffic is going to work.  Those people are even more likely to shift their usage by 30 to 60 minutes to go off peak.

      Facts and evidence are pesky things, and in this particular case they show that congestion pricing works.  It's being used and it works.  Putting your fingers in your ears and la la la-ing doesn't change that.

      • Underpriced assets ...

        Are almost universally misallocated. Since a slot in traffic only imposes opportunity costs, there is no reason to believe that everyone in traffic needs to be in that traffic.

      • facts are pesky things

        and some people will absolutely need to go to work at X time. I don't care if some can rearrange their schedules, a lot of them can't. You'll be asking them to cough up a lot more than others to cross the same tolls.

        Just dump the tolls. Want people off the highways? There's other solutions for that, starting with better, cheaper public transportation. Increase the gas tax to add another incentive to use that public transit, or carpool, etc.  

        • The point of variable toll rates is to change behavior

          If the tolls had congestion pricing, more people would be given the option of coming in at a different time. Companies that refused to allow their employees to come in early or late would have a harder time hiring people. Right now, being required to show up at a certain time is an inconvenience due to heavy traffic, but not one that has an easily measured cost. If people could tell their bosses that it will cost them a few hundred or thousand dollars a year extra to show up right at 9am, you can be pretty sure that most people will be demanding more flexible work schedules. Which will be good for everyone.

          The only companies that really can't have very flexible work schedules are retail shops and other businesses that have to have employees there whenever customers show up. But even they can change what hours they open and close at.

          • i don't disagree about changing behavior

            I just think variable tolls are an backwards way of doing it. There are alternatives that'd be easier on the pocketbooks and quite likely even more effective in combating traffic. Perhaps a varied approach would be best and peak hours should be looked into, but I wouldn't support it until public transportation were more affordable, available and better.  

            • Can you please be more specific?

              What alternatives would be easier on the pocketbook or more effective? Variable toll prices are easy to implement and easy to understand. What method are you suggesting instead?

              We can't wait for perfect solutions. We won't have more affordable or better public transit until we have more money. Even then, we have a lot of infrastructure upgrades that we need if we want the public transit to be better. Many of the improvements will take years (we need better tracks and better trains). It isn't realistic to say that we should do nothing until we have a perfect solution.

              • mainly public transportation

                Of course, I wasn't talking about the state's pocketbooks, I was talking about the people who give power to the state. You know, us. Public transportation is currently expensive, available only to pockets of the state and not run as well as it could be. I am not willing to drastically raise the price of tolls, even during certain hours of the day, when there's simply no cheap alternatives to travel to and fro for commuters, many of whom have no choice when they show up for work and do not make great sums of money to offset those tolls.

                I am not saying a peak system couldn't work or be a good idea, I just think it's inappropriate under current circumstances. You guys can bring up NYC and all those other places all you want, but NYC has fantastic public transit that ranges from cheap to free (ie the ferry ride for Staten Island), especially given the fact that it's expansive enough that far fewer who live or work in NYC need cars. People commuting just outside Boston do, even if it's just to get to the rail or subway.

                We won't have more affordable or better public transit until we have more money.

                Of course - and you've seen me argue quite vocally to raise that revenue. But not in the form of tolls. It should be done through the gas tax, spreading the burden across the state so no one group suddenly faces huge fines for their geography. Those fines penalize towns and make fewer people want to live there. No thanks. The investments need to be made to public transportation first, paid for by the state of Massachusetts, relieving the MBTA of the debt burden they never should have had in the first place. Part of the gas tax should and could very easily go toward our public transit - which could be immediately and quite easily boosted by lowering rates and increasing trains on service. After we've sufficiently invested in the public transportation system, we could then move toward other means to help nudge people from driving toward using public transit, but we've got to take one logical step at a time.  

  3. I still don't get...

    ...why we tax gas separately at all.  Just charge the same 5% tax as everything else and the more it costs the more revenue the state will collect automatically.  Infrastructure should be funded by the general budget like everything else, not paid for separately.

    • Well, one reason

      is that resetting the gas tax to 5% would mean the state takes a huge revenue hit.  Gas right now is about $2.25 a gallon, and the current MA gas tax is 23.5 cents a gallon.  So the pre-MA gas tax price about $2.  Take out the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents, and you're down to $1.82 or so.  So 5% would get you about 9 cents a gallon,  much less than half the actual gas tax of 23.5 cents a gallon.  You'd have to get gas up well over $4 a gallon before you could generate the same revenue.

      • However...

        we could have a gas tax of 23.5 cents or 5%, whichever is higher.

        we could also just change the gas tax from 23.5 cents to 10%, so that $2.25 gas provides about the same amount and $2.50 gas provides more.

        It's bad public policy though.  If you're going to use the money to build road infrastructure, you want to keep the revenue tightly correlated with use.  Making it a percent means the revenue will fluctuate wildly and make it difficult to plan projects because the funding isn't predictable.

        Furthermore, it's not clear that you can use the revenues from the gas tax for just anything.  IIRC, there's a provision in the MA constitution which requires revenue like the gas tax to go toward infrastructure.  I don't remember the wording and so it's impossible for me to find it.  David, others -- am I right here?

        What I'd love to see is for us to go to a 25% gas tax.  Given that gas under $2.00 is almost an impossibility, we can say that revenue under $0.50 a gallon is almost an impossibility.  So, my proposal:

        * 25% gas tax [we'll start at 15% and go up 1% each year]. * $0.30/gallon earmarked for roadway improvements.  That's more than we're getting now (23.5), and it would be used for roads, bridges, etc.  Of course, this includes sidewalk and accessibility projects and bike lanes, as it does now. * 20%-$0.30 goes to mass transit infrastructure.  Since this amount is variable, we essentially 'bank' money for a few years at a time and "forward fund" the infrastructure so the MBTA doesn't have to take on the debt.  This fund would pay for the green line extension, for connecting Bowdoin to Charles, for connecting the Silver Line to the Silver Line, etc.  It would also go toward improving commuter rail, eventually getting commuter rail straight through to Albany NY.  We'd use it to build HOV lanes for buses [and filled cars] on our highways to further encourage mass transit.  We'd also use it to work with US Congress to fund improvements in the Acela track within Massachusetts to help shave a few minutes off of that run.  Every bit counts.

        If implemented today, the $2.25/gallon gas would go to $2.30/gallon, and 100% of the revenue would remain for roads until the percent creaped upward.

        • Let's start by making road travel pay as you go ...

          Before we start talking about whether to allocate a portion of a gas tax to mass transit, let's make roads and bridges pay as you go, meaning no subsidy from the general fund.

          Raise the gas tax high enough that it covers all roadway improvements and maintenance, whether done at the state or municipal level. Raise the gas tax high enough that it can fund true and thorough compliance with the Paulsen bill, again at the state and municipal level. Raise the gas tax high enough that it starts to cover some of the obvious externalities created by automobile traffic.

          If a gas tax is high enough that it accomplishes all that and there is still a surplus, then allocate to mass transit. But, before we start making the hard -- and worthwhile -- argument that drivers should subsidize non-drivers, let's make sure that all driving is subsidy-free. The net of making driving subsidy-free is, of course, that general fund money and borrowing capacity is freed up for other worthwhile projects, like mass transit.

          I'm not sure how tightly correlated gas prices are to roadway construction and maintenance, I'd bet it's pretty tight. Both construction and maintenance are petroleum-intensive, so I would expect that costs go up sharply with a rise in the price of oil and retail fuel. Here's some evidence that that's the case.

    • a 5% sales tax

      on gas would be less than what we're paying now.

      current state gas tax = 23.5 cents/gallon

      a 5% sales tax on gas at the current rate, let's pick $2.10 as an example, would be 10.5 cents/gallon. That would more than cut the gas tax in half, absolutely gutting the state budget. (Every cent on the gas tax is about $25 million... so you're talking over $250 million here.)

      When gas gets high? Even at $4 a gallon, a 5% sales tax would only generate 20 cents a gallon. I'm sorry, but your idea just isn't a very good one, unless you'd be on the front lines in arguing for a sizable income tax hike. But suffice it to say, you couldn't take away the gas tax without funding that money. Furthermore, the Massachusetts gas tax isn't exactly onerous when comparing it to the rest of the country (and certainly not the North East, where our rate is one of the lowest - including NH after you read all the fine print on that link).  

  4. one thing about NYC

    It has a far superior public transportation system. Many of these places where tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of commuters would commute have better access and cheaper access through public transportation. For example, why would a resident on Staten Island drive - at peak time or any other - when they could skip paying the $10 toll and instead go free, using the ferry that runs 24 hours a day?

    Their public transportation is expansive enough that hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise commute using cars, passing tolls, don't. It also has much better hours, parts of it running for 24 hours a day even. If we had a public transportation system that rivaled NYC - with far extended subway service that went all the way into cities like Lynn and Salem - we would of course see hundreds of thousands of people choose the easier, cheaper commute than use cars. Many of these people wouldn't even buy cars, or they'd stick to one per family instead of the usual 2-3.

    We just aren't there yet, though. We could do a lot in short order to at least improve the service we currently provide, even if it'll take years to expand it. We just need to relieve the MBTA of the debt service they never should have been given in the first place, as well as increase its revenue through a mechanism like the gas tax (another incentive for people to use public transportation). If we can make public transit far more affordable, more people will use it, but right now it's no cheaper for people who live outside the city to use it than driving. That's why so many people cross those tolls to begin with.

    Before any toll increases are considered, even using peak-systems, we need to make sure that public transportation is at the very least more affordable - and preferably more available.  

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