MBTA Funding:The Opportunity Moment is Now

Well worth checking out the links. #longreads - promoted by david

We are on the threshold of the “adult conversation” that is required to enact a long term, fair and sustainable resolution to our chronic transportation funding issues.  I have long advocated an approach that generates transportation revenue from transportation sources, rather than the income tax or sales tax.  I have also advocated an approach that levels the playing field among modes, and that taps into advances in technology that enable the implementation of pure user fee systems. Those who care deeply about public transportation, and the need to bring funding equity to all non-vehicular modes (transit, bike and ped) need to adopt informed, politically viable and practical solutions. I have laid out a set of ideas and proposed solutions in a three part series now appearing in Commonwealth Magazine’s on-line Voices forum (see links attached).  I am grateful for the opportunity to offer this vision, and these solutions, which may help (in whole or in part) inform the debate.

Jim Aloisi







129 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. One thing I am certain

    Democrats did not win this election on raising the gas tax (a regressive tax) .20 a gallon. (However, what was mentioned was ending the oil subsidies, Democrats won on ending the oil subsidies). They also did not win this election on forced monitoring of miles traveled. I can’t support this at all. I work in Connecticut, but buy gas in Massachusetts. If the gas tax goes up, I will work in Connecticut and buy gas in Connecticut. How can we give tax subsidies to big oil companies that are hugely profitable and then increase gas taxes on low and middle income workers/commuters. How do you justify that? I’m curious, really.

  2. Could I have a T please?

    I dislike cars. I dislike driving. I don’t like how much it costs to buy, maintain, insure, register and inspect the only option I have for transportation. I don’t like to have to lug a car around, park, squeeze into tight spaces, sit at stop light after stop light and get stuck in traffic. I don’t like how dangerous it is out there with crazy drivers. I don’t like how long it takes to get from point A to point B. I think the portrayal of transportation in our state needs to be a little more open and honest. Car owners are not the wasteful and fiscally pampered people that the poster’s vision seems to portray. Making it seem as though MV owners are living in the lap of low expense transportation. It is already very expensive to provide oneself with this basic need. If we had other options, many of us would choose them. We don’t have other options here in Central/Western MA.

    • Maybe your lifestyle is unsustainable, then

      You have made the choices that underlie your lifestyle. Whatever the priorities were ten, twenty, thirty, or more years ago, the life you describe living today is not sustainable. Central/Western MA was NOT settled by people who felt entitled to live scores of miles from their workplace.

      Mr. Aloisi is simply telling the truth about current reality. Our highways are FILLED with heavy vehicles (trucks and SUVs) carrying ONE driver between work and home, often 30 or more miles apart. I93 is a parking lot, solid with bumper-to-bumper commuter vehicles, every day between Woburn (and points north) and Boston — southbound in the morning, northbound in the evening.

      The characterization of “fiscally pampered” is your own — but Mr. Aloisi does point out the enormous disparity in public funding for motor vehicles versus public transportation. That’s just a fact, and we are all paying the price now. Pieces like this are precisely the “open and honest” portrayal of transportation in our state — it sounds like you prefer the lies and pablum government has fed us since the turn of the century and before.

      It is long past time for those who choose to live in central and western Massachusetts to either find ways to sustain those choices (through telecommuting, new business creation, or significantly higher wages) or relocate to a more accessible region.

      • That it really weird Tom

        You make it sound like Western MA does not belong to Massachusetts. I’ve felt that way for a long time now actually anyway. I feel more like Western MA of Connecticut. How’s the population of Western MA doing? Are people moving in or out? I need to find those stats. How can I generate new business and demand higher wages? Do I need help or should I just call NECN and tell them I want that? Should Western MA of Connecticut elect it’s own Governor?

        • Reality is "weird"?

          I’m suggesting that an implication of living in Western MA is MUCH higher transportation costs, at least for the foreseeable future. That means folks who choose to live there either find a way to travel less or pay more. That’s ALWAYS been true. The automobile-centric culture born in the 1950s is the anomaly, and that anomaly has reached its end. Like a heroin addict who sooner or later either manages his or her habit or dies, America must either manage our petroleum habit or die. Those parts of our geography who are more dependent on cheap petroleum are going to suffer first. That’s not somebody being mean to you, it’s the simple truth.

          Starting a business isn’t hard — come up with an idea, flesh it out, and jump in. It might cost a few hundred dollars to incorporate if you need to do that. Presuming you live in an incorporated city or town, I’d start by asking around town. Is there a local Chamber of Commerce? Rotary Club?

          As far as demanding higher wages, I think that’s up to you and your coworkers. If you can’t sustain your lifestyle on your current wages, then you either need higher wages or a less expensive lifestyle. I’m not throwing stones here, I’m just saying that this is reality.

          We’ve been around some of this before — I am not willing to subsidize you for choices you made that have turned out to be unsustainable. I’m not willing to continue subsidizing your free ride on roads that I’m paying for. I’m not willing to watch the quality of life of the entire state continue its downward spiral because you demand to be offered $3.85/gallon gasoline.

          Your attitude of entitlement makes it very hard to have any sort of reasonable conversation with you.

          • i would hardly call it a free ride

            I pay excise taxes, a gas tax, registration and inspection fees and a ton of other taxes that are used to maintain our roads and bridges. What I don’t use is the Big Dig. I fly out of Bradley International Airport. I don’t begrudge Boston or Eastern MA. I love Boston! Eastern MA has beautiful cities with lots of diversity and interesting ways and walks of life. Stop trying to portray Western and Central MA as parasites and the root cause of this state’s problems.

            • The idea that you derive zero benefit from transit projects in Boston

              is false.

              I can say that without knowing your personal situation.

              I can’t say what your fair share of those costs should be. That’s a fair question but not one you can shed much light on by telling us what airport you use. The economy is complicated.

              There are plenty of people in Boston who do not fly out of Logan either, btw.

              I can also say that the transportation taxes and fees you pay do not come close to covering the total costs of that transportation.

            • We all pay those taxes, and they aren't enough

              I meant “free ride” metaphorically, and I think you know what I mean. Again, words like “parasites” are yours, not mine. I didn’t say that western and central MA are the “root cause” of this state’s problems.

              It’s very hard to have any discussion when you argue against what I didn’t say rather than address what I did say.

            • Our transit solutions need to incorporate the entire commonwealth. Gas tax, as much as I think it’s a good idea for climate & transit funding, could hurts low-income folk who don’t see immediate benefits. Buses/RTAs in Western, Central, Southeastern MA need to be a focus of funding moving forward.

          • This smells a lot like

            An implication of living in Central or Western MA is MUCH higher transportaion costs– to fund improvements in public transportation in places that are not in Central or Western Massachusetts.

            Another round of raising the tolls in Pittsfield to pay for the Big Dig, while tolls on users of I-93– i.e., the Big Dig– remain unthinkable. Yet liveandletlive’s “attitude of entitlement” makes reasonable conversation impossible.

            No thank you.

            • Did you read the proposals?

              An implication of living in Central or Western MA is much higher transportation costs (compared to more densely populated areas), period. Fewer people taking longer trips must be more expensive (per person), unless you have found a way to undo the laws of physics.

              The proposal offered in the thread-starter that I quoted below quite explicitly spells out how improvements in public transportation would be paid for — through premium pricing applied to urban drivers. The proposed VMT would, in fact, reduce costs for most Mass Pike users. The proposed VMT would, in fact, apply to users of I93.

              In short, it appears that you are objecting to strawmen that simply aren’t on the table.

              Are you sure you want to have a reasonable conversation?

              • Fair comment

                No, I was responding to the tone of the thread, which proceeded thusly:

                We here in metro-Boston require various improvements to public transportation, especially rail, which is quite expensive. Here, non-metro-Boston, have yourself a big tax hike to pay for same, and enjoy the indirect (trickle-down?) benefits thereof.

                I am not necessarily opposed to a VMT, though I would have questions on the workability and “big-brother” issues.

                I reject state-wide solutions to fund metro-Boston projects. Been there, done that, no thanks. I’m not sure how Chicopee benefits economically from the “improved” traffic on I-93, but I’m pretty sure that such benefits are pure BS.

                My 18 mile commute, completed at 65 mph does not have the environmental impact of a much shorter commute, stuck in traffic for 40 minutes at Exit 17 (Newton). You want capital improvements to the T, then impose London-style congestion pricing in metro-Boston, and leave those of us who neither work nor drive in Boston alone.

                • I think "London-style congestion pricing" is the proposal

                  The “London-style congestion pricing”, applied to metro-Boston and used to fund capital improvements to the T, is precisely the proposal.

    • The T to Connecticut?

      You live in Central Mass, work in Connecticut, and you want public transit to take you to work?

      If by Central Mass you mean “Springfield/Chicopee” and by Connecticut you mean “Hartford” than sure. Commuter rail, let’s do it.

      Otherwise — you must be joking.

  3. Funding Public Transit Gets You the T

    I own and drive a car. I like my car and I enjoy driving, be it for work or personal use. But I support public transit as an economic engine and an enviromental requirement to ensure our future.

    The MBTA moves millions of workers, consumers, seniors and students everyday. It is a vital part of the entire Massachusetts economy, not just Boston. Funding the T -and funding Regional Transit Authorities will get you the public transit access in Central/Western MA you are looking for. What’s clear is no funding, no access.

  4. File under things that should be free.

    This will of course require increased revenue, preferably on income, but it occurs to me if you want people to use mass transit make it entirely on the public’s dime. After all, with just a couple of exceptions roads are free to use as only the MassPike and I think a couple of tunnels in the state are tolled, so why not rails? Don’t just tell people in more open parts of the state to move. The urban lifestyle isn’t for everyone and I certainly don’t want the entire state to be one big city. How about pushing for better environmental standards for all motor vehicles rather than making all drivers out to be villans?

    • Indeed-ish

      I’ve often thought: let’s make buses free. A few reasons:

      1. They tend to exist in underserved communities, at least in Boston proper. (Very?) loosely speaking, rich folks live on the subway lines, po’ folks live on the bus lines.
      2. It would speed them up noticeably. Getting on would be substantially faster, reducing variance.
      3. It makes up a remarkably small share of the MBTA’s revenue stream, and takes not-insignificant costs to collect the revenue [machines on the bus, machines off the bus, enforcement, Charlie Card distribution, etc. etc.]

      I’d be in favor of making some bus routes free. There is some precedent in NYC — the ferry to Staten Island is free, a result of some transportation compromises. Currently, the Silver Line from the airport isn’t collecting fare either.

      Still though, the T is underfunded, and could do lots of good with more budget, so it’s hard to make the case to cut their revenue even just a bit.

      • At the same time, let's make them more convenient

        My problem with the discussion on transit (and why I gave Tom’s comment a thumbs down) is that not only does pitting drivers against riders hurt one’s ability to build a winning coalition, it ignores where technology is pushing us and the existing infrastructure we already have.

        I know it’s not popular, but buses are the answer. Rail lines are expensive to build and aren’t flexible. Plus expansions are likely to benefit the richest communities the most. Buses and other mass transit that utilizes our existing road infrastructure, however, is extremely flexible and already exists. The only problem is that the roads are clogged with cars. Seems like our problem can be solved by making driving more expensive and buses more convenient.

        Why not force everyone to get an EZ pass when they register their car (let privacy wackos opt out for a giant fee and plenty of red light camera tolls) and make all the major thoroughfares congestion priced toll roads. Want to take 93 during rush hour, that’ll cost you $4. Want to go down Rt. 9 in the morning, $3, want to drive through downtown Boston, that’ll cost you $15… That’ll free up the roads for those who want to pay the cost of driving and make it so the army of buses and vans (which can be driverless within the decade) can shepherd everyone else quickly down the infrastructure we already have. Make ZIP car like transit available for use during the day, and take a lane of each of these major state roads and turn them into bike lanes during rush hour.

        Obviously this isn’t thought through, but if we really want to get people excited about remaking transit in this state, we need to do better than 10,000 words on raising the gas tax…

        • I'm not convinced

          That buses are flexible is exactly what makes them problematic. I live next to the Green Line. Right across the street. That’s not an accident — it’s where I chose to live.

          It’s possible for the MBTA to roll up the rails and discontinue the Green Line, but it’s bloody unlikely. A bus, on the other hand, can change routes pretty easily. It’s flexible. That means I can’t rely on it operating that route five years from now — quite different from rail. That’s tremendously important when considering where to live, or where to develop property.

          Buses with dedicated lanes? Sure. That requires the same right of way though, and make them just as expensive and inflexible as rail, loosely speaking. Think: Silver Line from South Station to the Airport.

          As somebody who cycles, walks, streetcars, subways, and buses on a regular basis [and drives on an irregular basis] in the inner-Boston metro, I can tell you that buses are simply not the answer unless we’re willing to eliminate parking or travel lanes.

          As for congestion/real time tolling of more roads, you’ve got two problems:
          1. Tolling Interstate roads paid for with Federal monies is restricted in most situations, and
          2. Tolling local roads begs for people to cut through neighborhoods to avoid the tolls, which results in a worse situation for everybody.

          I’ve always figured we should toll Storrow and Mem Drive in parts, and all the bridges — BU, Mass Ave, etc… even if its just on peak hours.

          Finally, we need bus (and streetcar) rapit transit. Why are 40 people on a bus waiting at a red light for 6 people in cars to go the other direction? Adjust the light timings to give preference and priority to mass transit vehicles, which serves to (a) substantially reduce travel time for those in mass transit, and (b) slightly increase travel time for those in personal vehicles. Net result: bus riding becomes more attractive, more riders, more revenue and more frequent bus service to handle the increased ridership.

          • Okay, but your responses aren't convincing either

            The MBTA won’t pull up track?
            Tell that to the A line that used to run to Watertown and was killed in 1969, or the Arborway extension that was killed in 1985, or the elevated line that was torn down in 1987. I won’t disagree that rail is more permanent, but we’ve lost more in Massachusetts than we’ve gained in the last 30 years. Plus, they don’t just have to pull up the tracks to reduce service, they can just reduce or change the number of trains, which is exactly the kind of thing they do with the commuter rail. One other point, what do we do about a Red Line with increased ridership that can only fit so many cars in a station? Sure I’d love to see those stations expanded, do you have an extra $XX billion lying around?

            Never mind that your argument dodges the real question, how do we best expand transit? Through an expansion of rail, or through improving buses? Make a case that we can afford to expand rail service so that the ring of suburbs around Boston can connect to each other and Boston through rail and I’ll listen. You can’t, however, because it’s not only too expensive, it would take too long. I’m glad that you could afford to buy a home across the street from the Green Line, not only can’t everyone afford that, however, it’s impossible to achieve on scale because there are only so many green line stops. The reality, however, is that we can add a limitless number of bus stops. We can add buses, but we can also add vans, mini-buses, cars, all without spending anything on new infrastructure.

            If you want to build a political coalition that supports funding for the MBTA, the MBTA has to have a vision for transit that improves everyone’s life. Unless we expand the services they offer, that’s not going to happen. The new urbanist fetish of trains is expensive and the first step in solving the problem is ditching it.

            I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t bite on the driverless car – to me, that seems like the perfect solution. It allows you to drastically increase throughput on major roads (Storrow Dr. and roads like it can hold three robot cars wide traveling inches apart at speeds much higher than humans can) and relies on an existing infrastructure. If in 20 years we’re stuck paying off the debt of a bunch of underground tunnels while cities like Atlanta and other sprawling monsters are rich with robot car transit, the only thing keeping anyone in Boston will be the foliage (which will probably also be gone due to global warming)…

            • Basic physics

              Steel wheels rolling on steel rail are ALWAYS going to require less effort to move at any speed, ton for ton, then any flexible tire rolling on asphalt or concrete. Buses cannot achieve the fuel efficiencies of steel-wheeled vehicles riding on rails.

              I suggest that an alternative is for the government to build our rail system, together with its signals and controls, and allow private entities to then operate vehicles upon it. This is the way we’ve done highways and air travel — our current way of doing railroads is more an accident of history than any conscious choice.

              Speaking of robotic vehicles, robotic rail vehicles are here now. Have you considered why trains have to stop in order to couple and uncouple?

              It isn’t THAT hard an automation problem to, for example, have small self-propelled vehicles (with steel wheels) that attach themselves to the end of a moving train (and then disengage their internal drive trains). We COULD build “steel interstates” where express trains go at regular intervals and individual vehicles join and merge under computer control.

              For that matter, we might even be able to design your driverless cars so that they roll down specially designed ramps and park themselves, at speed, on already-moving flatcars.

              If trains had never been invented, and somebody came forward and laid out the basic concepts of steel-on-steel, how to do switches and crossings, and that sort of thing, it would be immediate sensation.

              Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

            • Slow down there, chief.

              I never argued that we shouldn’t have buses. You wrote “I know it’s not popular, but buses are the answer.”

              Not “an” answer. “The” answer. And frankly, you’re wrong. Buses are an answer, as are street cars, subways, commuter rail, and even boats. We needn’t and oughtn’t limit ourselves to one mass transit tool.

              Subways cost more, but they offer higher quality of service. We should expand where practical. Buses on their own roadways [Silver line in parts] are also awesome and should be embraced. By the time you’re at buses sharing roadway with personal vehicles and waiting like schlubs at the same traffic lights, you’ve reached the point where sure, its better than walking or paying for parking, but the quality of the trip is severely diminished. So yeah, get the cars off the roads and bus service will be greatly improved. Hell, get the cars out of the parking spaces and you’ve got yourself a bus lane. In the mean time, I’ll take my chances with the subway, and argue for relaxing the zoning restrictions which restricts how much housing can be built near subways.

              • just a heads up...

                calling people ‘chief’ is pretty insulting, it’s pedantic, it’s racist, it’s derogatory, and for me, it’s quick way to shut down conversation…

                In the interest of moving past that, however. Nowhere did I say or imply that you didn’t think we should have buses. I said that your argument that buses aren’t permanent enough for you, dodged the real question of how to build a winning coalition to support mass transit. Which, by the way, your argument continues to do.

                I wrote that buses are THE answer to building a winning coalition. Because without a public transit option that works for the millions of people for whom subways, trolley cars, and commuter rails are not a viable option and who aren’t likely to move, you’re not going to get the legislature or the Governor to put the necessary money into the system.

                There’s a good argument that we should greatly expand our commuter rail lines, and add rapid transit out to the Arlingtons, Watertowns, and Dehams of the world. But that’s not going to happen – it’s too expensive, right of ways are complicated, and it will take too long. It will cost billions (hundreds of billions?) of dollars. Taking cars off the road and adding busses costs million (hundreds of millions?) of dollars, however, and can be done in a year or two. We need to offer something that promises to cut the average suburban drivers commute by 20% or 40%, something that promises to make mass transit meet the needs of the citizens. Adding a bunch of luxury condos near T stops isn’t going to add enough people to build that coalition – it’s a losing proposition for the state – a winning proposition for those lucky enough to afford Brookline and Cambridge, but a loser for everyone else.

                • We're talking past each other

                  so my solution is to take a break, sport.

                  That last word was used to help ensure that it does serve as a quick way to shut down the conversation.

                • Racist?

                  Calling somebody chief can be racist, but it often is not. If the speaker knows that the person he’s addressing is a Native American, then yes, it’s racist. Otherwise, it’s usually not. Was Jimmy Olsen a racist for calling Perry White “Chief”? No. Are Navy personnel who address a CPO as “Chief” racists? No. Police chiefs and fire chiefs are routinely called that, of course.

                  As used here, it may be a sarcastic assignation of pretended authority used to belittle, but I’d bet it’s a humorous reference to that sarcasm, rather than the actual thing.

    • Nobody suggests "one big city"

      I didn’t tell anybody to move. Instead, I said that a choice to live in a rural part of the state is going to be accompanied by high transportation costs. That’s just reality. It’s always been true, except during the artificial bubble of overly cheap gasoline (where “overly cheap” refers to a comparison of what a gallon of gas actually costs society, as opposed to its price at the pump).

      Similarly, nobody is “making all drivers out to be villans”. We have been subsidizing personal automobiles for too long. We need to stop.

      Of course we should push for better environmental standards for all motor vehicles, but that doesn’t begin to address the whole story. A culture that separates parents from their children ten or more hours a day is a broken culture and the evidence is all around us. Generations of children have come of age in a culture where they don’t see their parents or their family members at work — the children end up damaged, and so do the parents. Our subsidies of automobiles, highways, gasoline, suburbia and exurbia — all of it, all together — created this mess. Pretending that we can untangle it without some people being unhappy, some people having to spend more, and — some people choosing to move — is delusional. On October 5, there was a FORTY FIVE MILE BACKUP on the Massachusetts turnpike. Forty five miles! How can this be anything but collective insanity?

      We build buildings in suburbia and exurbia that CANNOT BE WALKED TO. Have you ever tried to get from the Cape Cod national seashore (on the east side of route 6 in Eastham) to the lunch spots on the west side — on foot? We are a nation with an epidemic of morbid obesity, while we build cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods that STOP us from walking — then we pay hand-over-fist for health club memberships in hopes that we can “exercise” our way back to fitness. We pave everything in sight under strip malls that are only accessible by car, and then we struggle to fund “open space” preservation initiatives to protect what’s left.

      With all due respect, cheap petroleum is killing us. All of us. If I’m “making all drivers out to be villains” by daring to talk about how devastating our fossil fuel addiction is, then we have a very very long way to go.

  5. SomervilleTom, it's your turn to lose the attitude.

    On a recent thread, I and others called out Liveandletlive for what we saw as very negative vibes which you called self-centered and I called a tantrum. I also uprated at least one of your comments in that exchange.

    Now it seems the roles are reversed. You’re calls for Liveandletlive to simply move or find other work are not helpful to say the least. They may not be practical and some of us quite frankly both appreciate a certain quality of life that comes from not living in the city. Ironically, there is plenty about life that would NOT be sustainable if we were all city-dwellers. Farming for one obvious thing requires open space, so assuming you want to eat that aspect has to itself be sustainable. Let’s push for greater access to mass transit and higher fuel efficiencies without pitting parts of the state against each other or villifying certain people for their circumstances, which seems very unprogressive to me.

    • "Attitude"?

      Please explain to me how the lifestyle liveandletlive describes can POSSIBLY be sustainable. She herself says it can’t be done on $10.00/gallon gas, and she objects to $5.00/gallon prices. With all due respect, “mass transit” and “higher fuel efficiencies” are NOT going to solve her problem in her lifetime or, for that matter, her children’s lifetime.

      I love rural life too. It is, however, a much more expensive choice than your comments suggest (especially where we measure the TOTAL expense to society). I note that liveandletlive is NOT talking about farming, the problems she describes are not problems that farmers have. Farmers don’t drive to work every day. I would also like to point out that farmers have been around far longer than the automobile, so we surely don’t require $3.00/gallon gasoline to sustain our farmers.

      As I’ve written above, I’m not suggesting that all of us be city dwellers. I am, however, suggesting that if you choose to live a thirty minute drive from the nearest grocery store and hour’s drive from your work, then those choices are going to cost you more.

      Please show me where I’ve vilified anybody. Life is filled with choices. Choices have consequences. All of us have to live with our choices.

      • It wasn't really a choice somervilletom

        I was raised here, my parents were raised here. We live or lived in pre-existing homes that were built in the 1950′s or earlier. Our little towns were once bustling little local economies, where we could find work quite close, less than 10 minutes away. We had little markets and shops that we could walk to; I walked to them all the time. It seems to me you are suggesting that we all have choices to leave this area and move to urban areas, and if we don’t we deserve to pay the extra cost. That’s not really the true story. In a way, we are all being forced out of here. When my son graduates from high school, it is very likely we are moving south. It’s just to darn expensive here, and gets more so seemingly every day. So you are winning the battle. We are ghost townish already. A few more decades and your wish may come true. Which just goes to show, be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

        • I don't wish anything of the sort

          I love small-town life, I would live it if I could. I lived in Dunstable for a dozen years (a tiny border town on the NH border at Route 3), where the post office correctly delivered mail to me from my then-young children whose only address was “Daddy” (the postmaster recognized the return address, remembered the children, and knew where I lived). I am not the enemy, I wish no harm on you or your neighbors, I have no desire to see western and central MA vacated or ceded to Connecticut.

          If central and western MA need subsidies in order to survive, then I hope we will provide subsidies. My point has been all along that whatever we do, we must maintain a realistic perspective about the constraints that all of us live under.

          When I use the word “choice”, I use it in the sense that nobody forces anybody in the region we’re talking about to stay in place. America is, among other things, a nation of wanderers with a long history of migration. While it’s great that there are communities in western and central MA that remain essentially unchanged for three and four generations, such stability is not a God-given human right. America is chock full of migrations, some voluntary and some forced. Any student of history knows that many of those migrants were heart-broken by whatever need drove them from the homes of their childhood. I encourage anyone interested in such matters to read “Angle of Repose”.

          As you observe, the culture that your parents were raised in was very different from what surrounds you today. Your grandparents probably did not live in MA and work in Connecticut. Those “bustling little local economies” — little markets and shops that you could walk to — were destroyed by the effects of the automobile. I suggest that the demise of the automobile is the most effective way to restore those lost little economies that has happened since 1960.

          I enthusiastically seek to reinvigorate the little local economies that Massachusetts (and New England) once enjoyed — they create the varied fabric that for me makes New England “home”, especially in comparison to the automobile-sprawl of Seattle, San Francisco and LA. In my view, cheap gasoline is toxic to that vision, and the evidence of that toxicity surrounds us.

          I would, therefore, prefer that we — together as a Commonwealth — end our addiction to cheap petroleum, while doing whatever is necessary to help the region recover from the harmful effects of our collective disorder.

          • I am an enthusiastic supporter of relocalization

            Yes, I would say it’s probably true that the automobile was the instigating factor in our country’s journey toward increased job creation in a few urban and suburban centers and the loss of jobs in rural areas, because people can now drive miles and miles to work. But did the automobile cause the demise in manufacturing jobs and mill town sustainability? I’m sure it did play a role, or maybe it was trade agreements. Hmmmmm. It’s going to take more than making it a costly proposition to live in rural areas to bring back the mom and pops and little downtowns for the people who are still here. You can take away our cars, or make it absurdly expensive to drive them, but then what? If there is no other plan of action, people will simply migrate away, and that is what’s happening. If that’s the goal, you are achieving it.

            • Are poeple migrating away?

              Your link doesn’t really prove that. MA population is flat, other states in the country are growing, that much is true. The question is, if we have
              * rural
              * exurb
              * suburb
              * urban
              * super-urban [the difference between Newton and streets with 4+ story housing and no lawns]

              which way are people moving, and how are we converting our actual communities from one category to another? My bet is that rural areas aren’t growing or shrinking per se. Some rural areas are becoming exurb or suburb for sure… but the ones which were rural and are still rural — I’ll bet that their population is roughly flat. If they were shrinking, really shrinking, you’d see 10% of homes abandoned in town after town. That just isn’t the case. Sure, individual towns might have that due to a single large employer shutting down, but it’s the exception, not the norm.

              Are rural towns really shrinking? What’s the evidence?

              • This is one of the weirder threads

                I’ve seen in a while.

                Western Massachusetts, an immense area, ranging from densely populated the Springfield-West Springfield-Holyoke-Chicopee metropolitan area to the nearly empty hill towns of the Pioneer Valley, is somehow to blame for residents driving cars and causing global warming by not possessing enough people to support a more robust mass transportation system. Who chooses where they lived based on their carbon footprint? You want people to move into cities, deal with the education system.

                On the other hand, the Boston metropolitan area, which receives more than its proportionate share of money for everything, is virtuous for turning short trips into hours-long commutes.

                Wikipedia has all of the population info from censuses. In Hampshire County, population is grew by 3.8% over the last ten years . Hampden County has grown a little, about 2% in the last 20 years. Franklin County, which is sparsely populated, shrunk by .2%, after growing 2% and 9% in the last two decades. It looks like Berkshire County has been steadily losing 3% of its population every ten years since 1970. In short, our least populous counties are losing population, albeit at different rates.

                Western Massachusetts has seen some progress in infrastructure. Springfield will have a new train station and more stations and trains are planned for up and down the Western New England. The Amherst-Northampton area has free bus transportation. Springfield and Holyoke have bus service too.

                Me? I drive a Prius and commute about 45 miles a day. I don’t mind paying a higher gas tax, but it will hurt people who live in more rural areas, many of whom drive trucks. The fact is, individual action won’t affect our aggregate dependence on oil. It will take action on the state and federal levels.

                • WWGD?

                  What would Grover Do?

                • Again with "blame"!

                  Mark, who said anything about “blame”? I just don’t get this crazy thread either. Could I ask you to perhaps focus less on “blame” and more on the reality of what we do now?

                  You and Christopher seem to be off on a tear that has NOTHING TO DO WITH what I’ve been trying to say all along. Either I’m being really unclear in my effort to explain myself, or the two of you are misreading what I’ve written, or some mix of that.

                  I don’t “blame” Western and Central MA “for residents driving cars and causing global warming by not possessing enough people to support a more robust mass transportation system. ” I don’t see how to construe anything I’ve written to mean that.

                  Your decision to drive 45 miles a day is just that … your decision. You are fortunate that you can afford a Prius. Your Prius causes as much wear and tear on the roads you use as any other vehicle in its weight class. Your Prius requires the same amount of sanding, salting, and similar winter-time services on those roads as any other vehicle (at least as long as we still have winter). Our current transportation policies have been subsidizing all those services that you and your Prius require at the expense of public transportation all over the state.

                  Nobody is saying that you’ve done anything WRONG. I am saying that your decisions cost more. Nothing more, nothing less.

                  A significant part of the traffic that comprises those rush-hour traffic jams is people commuting just like you. If you are willing to define “Boston metropolitan area” to include employers on and inside I495, then that portion is even larger. Presumably Springfield and Worcester have similar (albeit smaller) traffic issues.

                  While we collectively sort out how to solve our addiction to petroleum and foreign fuels, all of us have to accept the costs of solving that addiction %#8212; in my view, this is simply facing facts. Mr. Aloisi has provided a framework that addresses those costs in a reasonably objective manner.

                  Yes, people who live in more rural areas and drive trucks will be hurt more (meaning they will have to pay more). That is not about “blame”, it is a simple statement of unavoidable reality.

                • share?

                  Surely you jest. Do you really think that the rural areas are paying enough taxes to cover the construction and maintenance of their state roads? Enough on their electric bill to cover the cost of stringing wires to them? We could go on and on with this stuff. Boston generates far more in taxes than it gets back. The state of Massachusetts pays more in federal taxes than it gets back. That’s what economic engines do.

                  P.S. Your own collection of wiki-data doesn’t demonstrate that “our least populous counties are losing population.” Hampshire grew, Franklin held flat after growing two decades in a row, and Berkshire is losing population. Even Berkshire County is losing 3 people out of 1000 every year. That’s not exactly a hemorrhaging of population.

                  • I looked everywhere for data to back up your distribution claims

                    and can’t find any except for the federal dollars one. Where are you getting your info from? I would like to see how state taxes are distributed, not only the amount, but the use breakdown as well. It is a give and take mechanism for sure. Different regions have different needs, and we give and take from all the buckets of funds at different levels. You are probably right about electricity distribution costing more in rural areas. It would make sense that serving a 10 story apartment building would be more cost effective than servicing 20 single family homes situated far apart. I wonder if all of the charges on our electric bills reflect that. Could be that we do pay more. Maybe not, don’t really know. Do you have a chart for that?

                    • Two different bits

                      MA state revenue and expenditures… I don’t have a source written down. I’ve chatted with friends (staffers) on Beacon Hill and that was their consensus, but I don’t know that a report has been done.

                      As for electricity (and natural gas for that matter), I have seen numbers but I can’t share them, because they were confidential data as part of CPCN and rate cases from utilities (day job).

                      Per mile, urban electricity distribution is more expensive. But, per electric meter (or per kWh usage), urban areas require far less distribution due to density. Distribution charges are system wide for every single rate making case I’ve ever seen — all residential customers of the same utility pay the same transmission charges per kWh. That’s simply how its done. One reason why is simplicity — to do anything else would require remarkably complex bookkeeping.

                    • I would question that because

                      there are different providers across the state for different regions. There are many different service fees and the providers have to submit requests for rate increases don’t they? I find it hard to believe that they are equal across the state, and just because cities have less cost to distribute electricity doesn’t necessarily mean the cost burden for the state is carried by the cities. It could be that the profit margin for the provider is a little nicer. Here is provider coverage in 2008. It’s change some since then but this shows how rural and urban areas have different providers and most likely different service fees.

                    • For elec -- that's a really good point

                      Loosely speaking, and ignoring munis, the map looks like this:
                      Boston metro and South Shore and Cape: NSTAR
                      Boston exurbs (inc. Lowell, Brockton, and Fall River) and Central Mass and some towns in Western Mass: National Grid
                      Western Mass (mostly): Western Mass Electric
                      Fitchburg & 3 adj. towns: Unitil

                      I hadn’t thought about it that way. Now, what I can say is that “it could be that the profit margin for the provider is a little nicer” is almost certainly not the case. The utilities are entitled to a very specific return on investment from the ratepayers, as settled by the DPU. I’m not arguing that the Commissioners always get it exactly right, but that’s the idea anyway.

                      Still, within a utility the rate is the same, and Boston and Bellingham almost certainly don’t have similar transmission and distribution cost structures.

                • I said this was a weird thread.

                  What set me off was the way people talk about Western Mass. I agree that people have different costs in different regions of the state. It probably cost some people more to commute to Boston and park than I spend in a week on gas. It is what it is.

                  Tom, your emphasis on “choosing” where we live is what brings blame into the equation. If you choose something, you pay the consequences. Saying we have a choice where we live doesn’t do justice to the many factors involved in that decision. Technically, I could have chosen to live far away from my family and friends. But having grown up, gone to school, found a job, bought a house, all these things militate against my moving. I think we agree that living in certain places, we incur certain costs. I think we disagree on the logic that gets us to that agreement. That’s all.

                  The fossil fuels problem is a problem in the aggregate, not in the individual. It takes tons of individuals doing the same thing to effect serious change. Any effect on global warming derives from the aggregate. If everyone in Massachusetts drove an electric car and I drove a gas-powered vehicle, my carbon footprint wouldn’t matter.

                  Stomv, I was just supplying you with data, which neither you nor Live and Let Live had. I didn’t do any serious crunching. Some of the communities I looked at in the Eastern part of the state saw population grow by 6-8% a year. I never said anything about hemorrhaging.

                  In terms of what we receive out here for money, it depends on where you look. Our court system has always gotten the shaft. Libraries the same. Electricity poles and wires? I think you know about this stuff, but hasn’t it been in place for several decades and been paid for? Do your electrical bills pay for my electricity?

                  • Different life experiences

                    I grew up in a MD suburb of Washington DC. I went to school in Pittsburgh, PA. I made a very conscious and explicit choice to make Massachusetts my home. Since moving here in 1974, I have lived in Boston, Acton, Billerica, Dunstable, Brookline, and Somerville. I have owned homes in Billerica, Dunstable, and Somerville. My Dunstable home was an oversized lot in a decidedly rural town. My current Somerville home is a two-family in a densely populated city.

                    I meant and mean no offense by talking about choice, I simply speak from my life experience. In my view, “blame” is very different from “consequences”. I have had to pay, financially and economically, for the choices I made. I moved away from my family of origin — and I am now surrounded by my five children and their friends (and families, as they mature — my oldest married a year ago). I did all the things you did — school, job, several homes — in my view, every one of those was an intentional choice I made. So — again — I’m not attacking anyone, I’m instead attempting to remind us of the responsibility each of us has for our own actions.

  6. My overarching point...

    …is that these are not just choices in the way you seem to make it sound. Moving is a project, not something you just do on a whim. There may be other reasons to live in less populated areas. Cities generally have higher costs of living, especially in housing. Boston, especially has notoriously high housing prices. My ideal would be to live in suburbia that has some space, but within reach of city-centric mass transit and convenient to basic stores and services in town. If you want me to use transit increase service and decrease fees. Remember, it is almost always more convenient for me to just jump in the car and go where I want when I want, so the incentives to do otherwise have to be great, but don’t penalize me with a gas tax hike as driving is often unavoidable. We CAN have it all (convenience and environmental protection) if we put our minds to it!

  7. With regard to the above imbroglio

    One thing I have learned working on transportation issues is that people do what the infrastructure tells them to do. Which is logical and even ( I would argue) morally defensible, even when the infrastructure is telling them to do bad things.

    But people also fetishize those choices as natural or god given, and then go on to make political choices (like voting for gas subsidies or fracking or more sprawl) that perpetuate the infrastructure and the choices. Not so cool, morally, disastrous from a public policy perspective.

    Thus the need for persistent, persuasive advocacy.

    No question that urban living, all else equal, has a smaller energy footprint than suburban or rural life. But I think it is better if everyone approaches this urgent and terrible problem with humility. None of us are living sustainably. None of us is entitled to live the way we are living.

    In terms of the Pioneer Valley: There is public transit there, mostly buses that are subsidized with state money. If live&letlive does not get to ride them, that does not prove he does not benefit from their economic effects.

    Indeed there are some economic benefits from the MBTA that filter out even to the Berkshires, though how these are distributed is a nontrivial equity issue.

  8. Trickle Up, can you clarify...

    …your assertion that urban living has a smaller energy footprint that suburban or rural life? If you are talking individuals and families I can see that but my first thought is that I usually associate the worst aspects of pollution with cities and clean energy sources with suburbs and rural communities. Any persuasion needs to come with a “how-to” list of ways to do things that don’t feel like sacrifice which I remain confident we can achieve with the help of new technologies and the will to prioritize them.

    • Per capita

      Sorry for any confusion about that. I should have said.

      And clearly, that is the metric that matters. If everyone in dirty ol’ Boston were living the same way as people in bucolic Shutesbury, the environmental impact would be much greater!

    • Per capita indeed

      Urban living has lower energy usage per capita for a variety of reasons:

      1. Transportation. Folks tend to (a) drive shorter distances because things are closer, (b) drive smaller autos because of parking and cultural considerations, and (c) use other options like walking, cycling, and riding mass transit more often.

      2. Space conditioning. Urban buildings require less heating, because (a) they tend to have fewer square feet to heat, (b) by sharing walls with neighbors, you gain tremendous efficiency, and (c) urban buildings tend to be built with a higher quality construction, and therefore more energy efficient. That last bit is in part because they are older (not that WWII quick-build stuff) and built to a higher building code-type standard because they’re multistory and therefore have to be structurally stronger.

      3. Zoning and urban planning. At least in older cities, there is typically mixed use development. Retail, housing, and office space coexist. This interrelates to both (1) and (2) above. It means that folks can walk to the grocery store instead of driving, and it also means that there are apartments or offices built “on the roof” so all of that heat from the grocery store in the winter doesn’t melt the snow on the roof, it helps keep the tootsies of the folks on the second floor warm instead. Oh, and that grocery store is smaller, so it has to be more space efficient.

      • at some point along the population density curve...

        1. Transportation. Folks tend to (a) drive shorter distances because things are closer, (b) drive smaller autos because of parking and cultural considerations, and (c) use other options like walking, cycling, and riding mass transit more often.

        … owning and operating a car becomes a liability and not an asset. This point is most starkly seen when people pay more per month to park their car than they pay in rent. When considering the total costs of owning/operating a vehicle, parking costs inclusive, it sometimes makes no sense at all… unless people become as emotionally attached to cars as they do to other things upon which they spend money.

  9. A strange MBTA planned expenditure

    The T is planning on spending $20-22 million to rebuild the last stop of the BC line, which the T rebuilt about two years ago to make it handicapped-accessible. They are doing a building feasibility study now with a federal grant. The planned station would mean moving the inbound side of Comm ave about 12-feet to the right and taking many mature trees. The station would totally change the look of Comm Ave and mean at least one extra traffic light.

    But residents of Brighton and Newton are mostly dead-set against the construction: a 225-ft long 23ft-wide station in the middle of Comm. Ave. just before the current final stop for many reasons, including the fact that the 75-80% of people who get on at the stop don’t have to cross any streets now to get on the train because they walk up Lake Street and turn right.

    They will have to cross to the center of Comm Ave to get on and off there if the new station is built. And, there are so many B-line stations that aren’t accessible right now it seems nuts to do this. Plus the T hasn’t done any real studies to support the expenditure.

    Why does the T appear determined to do it? Boston College wants it and comes to every meeting where they are given a special speaking spot. The funny thing is BC students don’t use the T, they use BC buses or have their own cars.

    • Put these resources into the Green Line extension

      That $20-22M would go a lot further, and create far more enthusiasm and less rancor, if it were directed towards the desperately-needed Green Line extension towards Medford — mostly stalled because of funding issues.

    • But these resources into TSP

      Why does the Green Line (B, C, and E), with 150 passengers, wait at a red light for six people in four cars to turn left?

      Why not update the system so that as the Green Line is approaching, the lights change their timing cycles, if only slightly, so that the Green Line *on average* waits shorter times for lights?

      The benefits are enormous. The average trip time goes down. The variance [randomly faster or slower] for the trip time goes down. This means the chances of two sets of trolleys bunching together is reduced, which reduces wait time at the 90th percentile *and* reduces the frequency of forced express runs. It also reduces the frequency of forced OT.

      Improve the quality of service of the B-, C-, and E- Line, and you’ll get more riders. Same cost structure, more fares. That’s good revenue for the T, reduced automobile congestion on roads and parking lots, improved service for the folks riding mass transit, and so forth. Hell, even if it cost $1M per light, you could do 8 for the B Line, 4 for the C Line, and 8 for the E Line.

      P.S. Not to say somervilletom’s note isn’t a good choice too.
      P.P.S. I “neglected” the D Line because it has exclusive right of way tracks — it never has to wait for an automobile intersection red light.

      • Easier said than done

        Screwing with light timing can also lead to gridlock situations in some cases, especially during rush hour, but if you can actually detect that there would not be many cars waiting, I see no reason why not. Of course, you can say the same thing for cars. Why should cars have to wait at a light when there is no one going through the green? Idling wastes energy (even with hybrid vehicles which may need to power AC/heat/dehumidifer depending on the weather).

        • We already have it for cars

          We have green extension for autos. Modern traffic signals which include a major road and a minor road use inductor loops. When the main road is “considering” turning yellow, it checks the loops. Cars coming? Keep it green for a while longer. No cars coming? Go to yellow, giving the minor road users and the pedestrians a chance.

          Gridlock is almost imporssible in New England because we don’t have city grids. This is gridlock:

          Now, poor light timing can result in traffic backing up, including folks blocking the box because the *next* traffic light is all the way backed up to this one. That’s not gridlock, strictly speaking, though it is a problem.

          The B-Line runs down Comm Ave — the major road. Same for the C with Beacon and the E with Huntington. They all have a number of traffic light intersections with very minor roads. There are also traffic light intersections with very long left hand turn lane buffers.

          I’m not arguing that every single traffic light should be made to give the T the green light no matter what. I’m arguing that there are a number of traffic lights for which giving the T the green light some or all of the time would cause no problems and would result in much better service.

          That we already do this kind of thing for autos but haven’t gotten around to it for the Green Line only makes it that much more exasperating.

          • Not really

            I know that in theory lights may use these inductor loops, but in practice I don’t observe very many lights in Boston/Brookline/Cambridge that appear to use them, except for a small number of lights that never change unless someone shows up on the side-street. Most of the lights I have to wait at don’t appear to have any variation based on traffic and that goes for all the lights on the Green line streets. Most of the lights around here aren’t even programmed to go into blink mode in the middle of the night when hardly anyone is driving.

            And whether massive traffic backup caused by badly timed lights is technically “gridlock” or not, I have experienced it in Boston especially and I would like to make sure we don’t cause any more of it. In any case, I am sure that anyone playing around with the lights for the T would take that into account.

            • How on Earth would you "observe"?

              Unless you stand at an intersection with a stopwatch and time the phases over the 90-130 second cycle, multiple times, you couldn’t possibly “observe” whether or not the inductor loops have any affect. Have you done that?

              I can tell you with certainty that you’re wrong on both Comm Ave and Beacon Street, because I’ve seen the traffic light timing diagrams. In both cases, the major arterial will “hold” the green to allow more automobiles to travel along the arterial without stopping at the light. This basic system doesn’t apply, however, to Green Line trains. It should, at the very least. But it doesn’t.

              • Well, I know when I am waiting at a light with little or no cross traffic.
                If drivers can’t perceive the benefits of the sensors because their effect is to subtle to observe, then I guess we shouldn’t expect Green line riders to observe the benefits when we put them in, right?

                Perhaps there are sensors on Comm/Beacon Streets, but they don’t really keep you from stopping extremely frequently even when there is no cross-traffic = but, perhaps that is intentional. I do know that I was stuck on Beacon Street in Brookline last week because of the construction and waited for quite a long time at several lights when there was no cross street traffic (because of the construction). Clearly there was either no such sensor in play at those intersections or they were not smart enough to deal with that situation (or they were turned off due to the construction?).

                In any case, since you seem to know about this. How many of Boston’s lights actually have such system, and if most do, then why do drivers have to sit at lights so often when there are no cars going through the green?

                Ideally, there should also be sensors that detect when traffic is backing up far away from the light. If you only have sensors in the immediate vicinity of an intersection you won’t be able to tell whether one direction should be favored.

                Anyway, if such systems would help the trains without screwing up traffic, by all means put them in. It does seem like a relatively cheap thing to do.

                • That's not how extended green works...

                  The inductor loops don’t let you go from red to green faster on the main road… they can’t. Your red has to hold long enough for the adjacent crosswalk to clear — which is a minimum time as a function of the length of the crosswalk.

                  What the extended green does is *hold* the green light for folks coming down the major road, if folks are coming. It increases the chance that you get a green light on the main road while simultaneously not forcing folks on the minor road to wait for a light change any longer than the crosswalk clearance time if no cars are coming on the main road.

                  That you can’t observe it on a case-by-case basis doesn’t mean you wouldn’t notice it in the aggregate. If Green Line gets TSP installed on 4 traffic lights, you’d likely get the advantage in 1-2 cases, getting a green instead of a red. That reduces your trip time by 1-3 minutes just about every journey. It also reduces the frequency of doubling up trolly kits and the frequency of long waits for the train.

                  To answer your Boston questions…
                  > How many of Boston’s lights actually have such system
                  No idea. I’d *guess* most traffic lights on major roads which have been re-engineered within the last 10-20 years. Keep in mind though, when NStar et al cut open the road, they sometimes end up cutting the inductor loops — and those rarely get fixed. This wouldn’t be a problem with the T because the T has direct oversight of every single work project on their right-of-way, unlike road work.

                  > and if most do, then why do drivers have to sit at lights so often when there are no cars going through the green?
                  Much of the time, it’s to allow the crosswalks to clear. If I recall correctly, federal guidelines/standards (ADA) call for crosswalk timing that is no shorter than a pedestrian speed of 3.5 feet per second. Figure roughly 12 feet per lane — an intersection with two through lanes and a dedicated left hand turn lane means five lanes of traffic, 60 feet. That means the crosswalk must have either WALK or a flashing DON’T WALK for a minimum of 17 seconds. 17 seconds feels like a lifetime when nobody’s coming.

                  Unlike some (all?) neighboring communities, BTD can control the Boston traffic lights from a central location. Maybe not all of ‘em, but many. They’ve got some bunker somewhere, with cameras and sensors and computers. If they know they’ve got a big backup somewhere, they can tweak the timings to help resolve the issue. They likely can’t do much more than tweak though, lest they create terrible backups in another direction.

  10. Any chance of modernizing the Green Line while we're at it?

    I dread riding the green line. It’s cramped, lurches from side to side, stops too often at least on parts of its route, just over all a less pleasant experience than the other lines.

  11. I have a question and a suggestion

    What was the reasoning behind reducing the Turpike tolls in Western MA? I don’t use the pike that often, but do notice once you get past Ludlow X-7 the toll is 45 cents no matter how far West you go. I could support raising the tolls in the West to match the tolls in the East Or, raise the tolls for X-7 west to 50 cents and then install collection bins that will trigger the control bars when 2 quarters are thrown in it. This will save money and raise money ( how much I don’t know ). I don’t remember what the tolls were before the change to 45 cents, but it doesn’t make sense to lower the tolls without lowering the expense of collecting the tolls. Maybe they did in some way and I’m just missing that. One other thing to consider. The toll from Palmer to Ludlow is around 25 cents I think. Install collection bins but have it set to accept 1 quarter.

    • I really think this would be popular with the constituency over here

      because it shows streamlining of services and doesn’t force people to get transponders.

    • I would not expect the Turnpike Authority to do anything sensible

      Most exists now have 2 EZPass lanes that back up, with three empty “ticket” lanes with toll collectors sitting, picking their nose

      • More evidence in favor of VMT

        It seems to me that the MA Turnpike Authority has shown itself to be among the most dysfunctional organizations in the state — itself quite an accomplishment.

        It also seems to me that the probably-accurate picture you paint is why VMT is a better answer. No toll plazas to backup . No patronage hires sitting in toll-booths. No forty five mile backups at toll plazas.

        Unless people LIKE sitting in those backups, I’m not sure why there is any resistance to VMT — I would think such an approach would be welcomed.

        • Yes, I would agree

          I have some questions on the VMT: how it will work, how easily it can be gamed, too intrusive by government? But these may be answerable questions, so I am set in listen with an open mind on VMT.

          I am also open to an increased gas tax, with the provisio that I am not interested in using the revenue thereof for multi-billion dollar capital improvements in Boston.

          • All perfectly reasonable

            It sounds like we’re on the same page.

          • It seems to me

            that it could easily be established by checking the odometer on a car, at the time of inspection, without knowing where someone drove. Inspection stations could be required to submit photo of odometer electronically to state. If dates of inspection are not an exact year apart (since you have a whole month to do inspection), state pro-rates to get to 365.25 days. That gives you base mileage; perhaps there could be targeted abatements where appropriate.

            Targeting it to specific times/areas might be good public policy in terms of reducing congestion and promoting alternatives, but I don’t know how you do it without raising serious civil liberties concerns.

            • Nope

              Because MA has no idea how many miles were driven outside of Massachusetts — and hence outside of MA’s tax jurisdiction.

              • Hmmmm...

                Then I really don’t see how you do it without keeping tabs on everyone. But I’m not sure Mass. could only tax miles driven within Mass. Mass. income tax is assessed on income earned outside Mass. if you live in this state.

                • Almost

                  MA does tax income that residents make elsewhere, but only to the extent that the other state’s tax on it is less than the MA tax. Likewise, residents of other states pay income tax to MA to the same extent.

                  • Not exactly right

                    Take New Hampshire. If you live in Mass. and work in N.H. you still file a Mass. return and calculate Mass. tax, same as you would if you earned the income in Mass. Since NH has no state income tax, you don’t have any tax paid to another jurisdiction, and thus no credit. You pay to Mass. the same as you would if you lived and worked in Mass., even though you did not work in Mass.

                    If you work in, say, Connecticut, you’d get a credit on your Mass. return for what you paid to CT, up to the amount of your Mass. liability. But the state’s choice to allow a credit for tax paid to another jurisdiction doesn’t change the Commonwealth’s authority to tax its residents for work done somewhere else.

                    • Yes

                      That’s what the DOR site I linked to says.The effect of it is as I described.

                    • How does it apply here?

                      It’s clear that Mass. can assess Mass. residents an income tax for all income, even on work done outside the state. You only get a credit if you’re paying tax on the same income to some other state.

                    • Applying the same principle would mean

                      taxing 100% of the odometer increase for MA residents, then giving the MA resident a credit for transportation taxes imposed by other states. It raises a whole series of questions – Credit for just VMT in other states? What about Gas taxes? Tolls? Any other taxes? Who administers the tax? How does the MA resident show how much tax is paid to another state?

                      I guess it could be as simple as saving your EZ Pass statements and your gas receipts from out-of-state travel and using them to reduce your MA VMT. But that system, while avoiding the “big brother” objections, would lose the ability to impose different rates based on time and/or geographic location of travel.

                    • As tolls have done for decades rather successfully

                      I smell a “Big Dig” brewing here. A hugely expensive investment in a controversial infrastructure project that will cost more in the end to implement, maintain and enforce than it will reasonably take in in revenue. There is no reason why we can’t change the toll system to include self service coin toss or card swipe models, hire one monitor for every station and put this horrifyingly oppressive big brother proposal away for good.

  12. We seem to be overlooking the proposed VMT

    Several of the comments in this thread have implied (such as “On the other hand, the Boston metropolitan area, which receives more than its proportionate share of money for everything, is virtuous for turning short trips into hours-long commutes. “) that residents of Central and Western MA would be forced to pay more in order for residents of the Greater Boston metropolitan area to pay less. I think this is a misperception, and I think that Mr. Aloisi’s proposals address this misperception.

    First, regarding “proportionate shares” of transportation funding, I think we need to be very careful about what we’re discussing. Are we talking about total cost? Are we talking about cost per household/person? Are we talking about cost per roadway mile? Are we talking about cost per occupant mile? I think a reasonable case could be made for each one, and I think the results are wildly different. The lower population density of Western and Central Massachusetts is a huge factor in why people live there. It also means that the roads that are built there carry far fewer occupants, and the per-occupant cost is therefore far higher. Spending the same amount of money on roads therefore translates to a higher per-occupant spending in Central and Western MA than in Greater Boston.

    The good news, in my view, is that Mr. Aloisi has put a proposal on the table that address all this — his proposed “Vehicle Mileage Tax” (VMT). From the third link of the thread-starter (emphasis mine):

    Second, in 2007 the Transportation Finance Commission made a strong argument for introduction of a pure user-fee system to raise transportation revenues. This so-called “VMT” system (for Vehicle Miles Traveled) would charge motorists a small fee for each mile they drive each day on major state roads and highways. Pilot programs conducted in other states have proven conclusively that VMT can be structured in a manner consistent with legitimate privacy concerns, so that origin and destination data are not retained.

    VMT would be fair and transparent, and it would generate funds well in excess of the current gas tax. VMT could be dynamic, charging motorists less while driving off-peak or in rural areas, charging them more while driving on congested urban roads or during peak hours. If we raise the gas tax as I suggest, and add VMT, we can start bringing adequate revenues back into the system. The Transportation Finance Commission concluded that a 5-cent-per-mile VMT on the Interstate system alone (excluding state highways) would generate $550 million a year, or $5.5 billion over 10 years. That figure assumes that VMT replaces turnpike tolls on Interstate 90, and it is net of the cost of collection. For most motorists using Interstate 90, this 5-cent-per-mile fee would end up costing them less than the current cost of turnpike tolls. If you include state highways like Routes 3, 20, 9 and 7 within the VMT regime, the revenues generated are more robust than any we have known in our lifetime – well over a billion dollars of net new revenue.

    Perhaps the best aspect of VMT is its adaptability. VMT by definition is fair: you pay for what you use. VMT doesn’t charge you for Main Street, or other local roads. Out-of-state license plates can be captured and assessed through conventional border tolls and video technology. VMT can charge you more if you are using the roads at a premium time or in a congested area, and less if you’re driving in more rural areas.

    We have talked and talked about congestion pricing. VMT enables us to do something about it. Think of it: we can have a base VMT price, applicable to everyone. We can charge motorists in rural areas like Berkshire and Franklin counties, where people must typically travel longer distances between destinations, the base price. Then we could charge premiums above the base charge for a variety of reasons: premiums for travel within more suburban and urban corridors, or within chronically congested corridors or during rush hour. Those premium charges – the “delta” between the base VMT price and the premium price – can be dedicated to public transportation needs across the Commonwealth as a way to improve the system’s service and reliability, encouraging and sustaining modal shift.

    The approach that Mr. Aloisi proposes does not raise taxes on Central and Western MA in order to fund public transportation. In fact, it is the occupants of those daily miles-long parking lots that occur every day on I93 and similar roads that will pay for public transportation under the “congestion pricing” of Mr. Aloisi’s proposal.

    Doesn’t this proposal address the bulk of what we’ve been arguing about here? The claim (emphasized above) is that MOST turnpike users would see a decrease in their travel expenses, while the State as a whole realizes enough revenue to put our transportation system back onto a sustainable financial footing.

    After all the “candid and frank exchanges of views” that we’ve had here, doesn’t it make sense to at least discuss the specifics of these proposals?

    • The VMT would require big brother monitoring of travel habits

      I will never support that – NEVER! I am beside myself with electronic health records going through without a thoughtful discussion about it from the people of this country. We are headed toward incredibly frightening territory here and I will fight to the end to prevent it from happening. We really need to think about what is going on with our plutocratic society and how much danger we will be in should we lose our democracy by electing leaders who will use the vulnerabilities they are imposing on us for their own personal gain. I believe in freedom for the people, not freedom to trap and impose government/corporate monitoring of every aspect of citizen’s lives.

      • Privacy concerns can be addressed

        The proposals from Mr. Aloisi address the privacy concerns. Rather than reject them out-of-hand, I suggest that we examine what information is collected and how that information can be managed and protected.

        I think it will be more helpful to explore the areas of concern than to categorically reject otherwise attractive alternatives.

      • Travelling is a public event

        The VMT would require big brother monitoring of travel habits(0+ / 0-) View voters

        I will never support that – NEVER! I am beside myself with electronic health records going through without a thoughtful discussion about it from the people of this country.

        With respect to VMT, I have to ask… suppose we were to implement just such a tax with the proviso that all tracking were done, as it were, manually? Instead of using computers we’d hire umpteen more cops who’d have to keep manual logs of your public travel. Would this still meet your criterion of ‘big brother monitoring?” I mean, I can manually track your travel habits now and today if I’m willing to put in the time and the effort: I’m doing nothing illegal if I wait for you to exit your home and follow you wherever you, publicly, go. We’re talking about making this process more efficient but we’re not talking about going from a formerly private activity to a fully public one…. we’re talking about collating information that’s already accessible. The argument can be made that public infrastructure shapes travel habits and, being public already, there’s no expectation, whatsoever, that you’re travel habits are private. They’re just dispersed and not easily collated accross the entire population.

        I agree with you about health records: they are not, never have been and ought never to be publicly available. If I were to make your records publicly available I’d have to commit a crime to acquire them. So it’s a lot different.

        • Dear God

          Please bless us all.

          • Help me out, please

            If the ONLY data collected were (a) miles traveled, (b) road category of those miles, and (c) time of day, what privacy issues about that data concern you?

            You already report annual mileage on you inspection sticker and state-mandated insurance. Your vehicle already has an odometer.

            I’m trying to understand the basis of your privacy fears.

            • How do you calculate the

              (b) road category of the miles, and (c) time of day

              without tracking exactly where the car was at a given time and date? I think that’s the issue.

              • Use active devices

                The location and time is known when the sample is taken (as you correctly observe). That sample can be converted to some “consumption count” at the time it’s collected, and the result saved. The specifics of where and when are thus not derivable from the stored result.

                • So what stops me...

                  from putting aluminum foil around my RFID? Invisibility cloak of sorts.

                  Of course it doesn’t have to be aluminum foil, but the point remains — all I’ve got to do is disable that thing for some of the year, and I’m gravy.

                  • Presumably

                    If, for example, the data from the on-board device were uploaded at each gas station (or something similar), I don’t think it would be hard to work out that MA Registration 12ABC34 is never recording any miles.

                    I’m not saying it couldn’t be gamed. I’m saying that I think it can be engineered so that most people don’t bother. We’ve already stipulated video cameras to capture out-of-state license plates. If your car rolls through, has a MA plate, and is NOT communicating with the chip (not just once, but ten or twenty times), then I think it would be appropriate to ask you to explain why.

                    If there were a hefty fine associated with being caught attempting to evade the VMT, I think the carrot-and-stick mix could solve the problem in a not-too-invasive way.

          • devoutly to be wished...

            Dear God(0+ / 0-) View voters

            Please bless us all.

            … but entirely orthogonal to the discussion.

        • Sure, but that's a straw man argument

          Nobody’s going to pay for that and it doesn’t happen. Under that theory I should get a tracking chip in my wrist just because the state could hire a cop to tail me morning, noon, and night.

          I support a tax on mileage added to a car (though I put a lot on myself), but I agree with liveandletlive’s privacy concerns on this.

          • not exactly....

            Nobody’s going to pay for that and it doesn’t happen. Under that theory I should get a tracking chip in my wrist just because the state could hire a cop to tail me morning, noon, and night.

            The cop would need a warrant, and a separate warrant at that, for each and every place you enter that is not public… like your home, or somebody elses home, so your analogy breaks down: tracking all your movements is a whole different animal than tracing all your public movements.. A video camera, or similar stationary tracking device, that is essentially a substitute for a cop who could stand in same place, or even mobile tracking, provided it remains public, is merely collation of existing data. You private sphere of actions, however, is, and ought to be, entirely separate from that.

            • Who needs to enter?

              The cop could wait in the street until I come out. Did you never read any Spenser books?

              The point is that most of us have some expectation, based on our history, that even when we venture out from a private place, our every movement is not being tracked by the state. Yes, there are police and cameras in certain places. But a chip that knows precisely where your car has been and where seems to me a bridge too far.

              • Do you own a cell phone?

                If you do, all your movements are already being tracked, so long as you have the phone with you. Government agencies can get this data without a warrant. If you’re seriously bothered by this, take the battery out when you’re not making a call.

                To add to your disquiet:

                A 2003 lawsuit revealed that the FBI was able to surreptitiously turn on the built-in microphones in automotive systems like General Motors’ OnStar to snoop on passengers’ conversations.

              • But that's NOT what is being proposed!!!

                Nobody is proposing “a chip that knows precisely where your car has been and where seems to me a bridge too far.”

                In fact, the proposed technology for VMT explicitly does NOT do that. It doesn’t need to, the proponents don’t want it to, and nobody is suggesting it should.

                The proposed technology is little more than a glorified odometer. Your odometer records how many miles your vehicle has traveled — it does NOT record what roads those miles were accumulated on. The proposed VMT chip would do essentially the same — it would weight the mileage by the class of road and time, multiple them together, and save the result. The result is no location and and time information — and no threat to privacy.

                Surely there are sufficient real and present threats to our privacy that we can and should focus on managing those, rather than imagining threats that don’t exist.

      • Electronic health records are subject to HIPAA

        The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 already contains adequate privacy safeguards where your health history is concerned.

    • VMT is overengineered

      Sure, VMT allows for all kinds of interesting taxation schemes.

      However, simply taxing gasoline serves to do two things:
      1. It’s wicked easy, with no opportunity for cheating from individuals and very limited opportunity to cheat by the retailers. VMT — the opposite.
      2. The gas tax provides a direct incentive for fuel efficiency; VMT does not explicitly do that.

      The real problem is that the legislature is simply too afraid to increase the gas tax. If gas tax revenue isn’t keeping up with road maintenance requirements, the correct answer is to raise the gas tax. Hasn’t happened. What the legislature should do is
      (a) raise the gas tax a dime, and
      (b) automatically increase the tax by 0.25% each month. Not twenty five percent — one fourth of one percent. Let it slowly, slowly drift upward. Then the tax keeps up with inflation without requiring future legislatures to muck with it… AND there’s very little incentive to put a temporary freeze on the increases because each increase is something like one twentieth of a cent per gallon.

      Finally, I’d add that the idea of pricing folks who use uncongested roads seems a bit strange. After all, if a road is always uncongested, it means that it’s not bringing enough revenue in to pay for itself. It’s the congested roads which would be self-funding, not the quiet rural routes. This isn’t to say that I oppose congestion pricing — I love it. It just seems to me that providing low prices in rural areas guarantees an even larger cross-subsidization than we have now.

      • Perhaps

        I agree that the proposals on the table may perhaps be over-engineered. In my view, the promise outweighs the excess costs.

        I’d like to see the several studies about privacy referred by Mr. Aloisi. As a technologist, I can imagine that some sort of RFID device, embedded in or near the roadway, could respond to a logging device embedded in the license plate (for example), and log only the “class” of the roadway (so that superhighways can be taxed differently from neighborhood streets), the distance traveled, and the time. There are zero privacy implications, that I can see, in that approach. The only information collected is not very different from information owners already provide to the state (albeit indirectly) for inspection stickers, mandatory insurance, and so on.

        The dilemma I have with the gas tax is that a vehicle that doesn’t use gas puts causes the same wear and tear and requires the same highway infrastructure as a gas-guzzling monster of the same weight. As the state’s vehicle fleet migrates away from gasoline and towards alternatives, the revenue needed by the transportation infrastructure either dries up or gets held hostage by the same political forces that have blocked gas tax increases for so long.

        The proposals offered in the thread-starter do both (as well as some other things). I think both are needed.

        I’d like to see a dynamic VMT completely replace the current tolls. I think we must impose a VMT on I-93, I-95, I-495, and both ends of Rt 3 (from Chelmsford north to the state line and from Braintree south).

        I am confident that such an approach solves the infrastructure revenue problem and does so without adding undue burden on Central and Western MA.

        • Your dillema is falsely placed

          “The dilemma I have with the gas tax is …”

          Road damage is a function of the fourth power of the vehicle’s weight. That means a 5,000 lb SUV vs. a 4,000 lb car: (5/4)^4 = 2.5 times more damaging. Use a 6,000 lb SUV and you’re at more than 5 times more damaging. Here’s the kicker though. A tractor trailer weighs on the order of 80,000 lbs, and those guys are doing 160,000 times more damage than the car.

          Damage to the road is already unfairly allocated to personal vehicles. Some states add extra tax to diesel to roughly cover the added costs, but nowhere near the difference in damage.

          Besides, it’s not that hard to require a separately metered plug-in for electrics, and tack on a kWh tax for vehicles there. Given that most garages will have to be retrofitted for the charger anyway (not likely to use 110-120 V at 15 amp, too slow a charge), there’s little added difficulty to doing that.

          We can just do dynamically priced open road tolling on the Pike. We can’t toll I-93 without an unlikely-to-get waiver or a significant change in Federal law. Same goes for 495 IIUC.

          The dilemma I have is this: if we are to fairly allocate the cost of the roads, the folks in central and western mass will have to pay *more* than they do now. After all, the cost of maintaining the Pike near Newton is roughly the same per mile of road as the Pike west of Springfield — however, the number of cars per day is much higher near Newton, which means that each car should have to pay *less* to drive on Newton roads (when there is no congestion adder) than to pay on the Pike out west. Why shouldn’t urban dwellers, who pay more for real estate and other cost of living indicators and miss out on the lovely greenery, at least capture the cost savings associated with density?

          P.S. RE privacy: Right now, the Federales know my total miles driven per year, and know the timestamp every time I go through a toll [EZ pass or no, they've got cameras, and could well be logging the data now]. If I stay off of the Pike, they know an annual total. If the recording technology is logged just on the auto (rolling total of dollars owed, for example), then anybody can hack their device and change what they owe. The underlying data has to reside with the state, not with the auto. If so, they know the time I’m on the road and what kind of road, and every time I change road class they know a little more information about where I’ve gone. It’s far more information about my travel habits than the total number of miles I drive per year (and my Mass Pike trips).

          • Not just road damage, though

            I agree with just about all you’ve said. The cost of highway infrastructure is more than just road damage, it’s plowing them, maintaining their right-of-way, acquiring new right-of-way, painting stripes, lighting them (or not lighting them, as too many stretches of Boston-area highways are becoming), and all that. I would like to see most trucking, especially long-haul trucking, moved from highway to rail. That already happens a lot with multi-modal approaches — we need to do more of that.

            It seems to me that VMT is a way to finesse the restrictions on tolling I-93 and others — that’s the beauty of not recording the location where the data is gathered.

            I’m absolutely on the same page as you regarding the dilemma you pose about fairly allocating the cost of all these roads. I think this dilemma may offer the political “stick” to go with various carrots (like removing tolls on the MA PIKE altogether).

            I’m as sensitive about privacy most of us. Hacking the auto is, I suspect, harder than you might think. Just about any kind of reasonable encryption scheme can be configured to simply break the device (and presumably create a very loud and/or visible ruckus at the same time). I also wonder if you’ve oversimplified the dilemma about where the data is stored. If the data is aggregated (including time stamp) when collected, so that the ONLY long-term storage is the total VMT due (in whatever units make sense), then that storage can be maintained by the state as easily as on board the vehicle with no change in privacy implications. The technical challenge of making each vehicle “call home” occasionally (as in daily, weekly, even monthly) and upload its total — or even do it at the gas pump — is just not that big. In short, I think the privacy considerations are readily addressed and easily managed.

            By the way, the privacy implications of the Charlie Card dwarf anything we’re talking here, so I think we have some flexibility to work with.

            • Charlie cards and privacy

              I have a Charlie card. I pay for it with cash. Every time.

              The T has no idea who I am. They could probably guess which neighborhood I live in based on the rides, and could also determine which other places I like to board often. But, they only name they have on me is Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin.

              • I understand, I'm just saying ...

                I’m just observing that the proposed VMT technology (with the provisions to protect privacy that we’re discussing) strikes me as rather lower on the list of threats than a great many of the other threats that surround us. I’m thinking of, for example, Wednesday’s SJC decision enlarging the rights of police to search cellphones, or Tuesday’s announcement that the MBTA will install four hundred new “security cameras” across six Red Line stations.

                While I get that $6.5M is not a huge amount of money, I’m just reluctant to embrace privacy concerns as a barrier to a significant revenue source while we simultaneously embrace far more threatening assaults on our privacy using federal funding. You might use cash to buy your Charlie Card, but I’ll wager that it won’t be very long before any authorities who want to can identify you using face recognition software from the videotapes that they surely take of you feeding your Charlie Card (never mind the tape of each time you enter and exit the turnstile).

          • Question

            How is it that the cost of maintenance (Pike) near Newton, with the amount of traffic it bears, is the same as the western portion, which carries less traffic?

            It sure seems like the eastern portion should require more maintenance, because it is used more.

            • Much larger distances

              The pike near Newton carries more traffic but does so over a shorter distance. The western portion carries less traffic, but covers a far longer distance. I’m not sure of stomv’s numbers (though he’s usually pretty reliable about such things), but I’m pretty sure that the difference in distances is the key.

              For example, the distance between the Framingham exit (exit 12) and the Newton exit (exit 17) is 16.1 miles and there are six interchanges. By comparison, the distance between West Stockbridge (exit 1) and the I-291 interchange (exit 6) is 48.2 miles — about a factor of three.

              Each truck that travels six exits (chosen randomly) — those trucks that do 160,000 times as much damage as a passenger car — destroys about three times as much road in the west as in the east. I don’t have the statistics (does anybody?), but my impression is that the truck-to-car ratio in the West is MUCH higher than in the East.

              Some of this is just the basic geography. A through-truck that starts at the eastern terminus (at milemarker 137.8) travels 47.3 miles to get to Auburn, and roughly twice that (90.5 miles) to get to the western terminus. The halfway point (by mileage) is somewhere between Palmer and Sturbridge — I’m not sure where folks divide “Central MA” from “Greater Boston”, but I suspect that it’s well east of Sturbridge!

              • OK

                That seems right. I wonder what the origin and destination of all of that truck traffic is out there.

                Because the point above was that stomv wants people who live quite far from Boston to pay more– seemingly quite a bit more– for the privilege of using roads because our roads are so much more expensive to maintain than metro-Boston, and gee metro-Boston already pay too much and should capture the cost savings from living where they do.

                The roads in the west are so much more expensive to maintain because it bears a greater proportion of damaging truck traffic– a significant chuck of which are carrying goods to and from dense areas in metro-Boston.

                Isn’t that asking people who live in Chicopee to pay for the privilege of having trucks pass through so your CVS can be fully stocked?

                • Also, it seems to me that a lot of traffic from Boston

                  heads south at I-84 in Sturbridge to Hartford and NYC. I-84 is mobbed at rush hour, especially on a Friday afternoon/evening. I know cuz I’ve made the mistake of driving on it during that time. Crazy mad drivers too.

                • I'd prefer to see that freight moved by rail

                  I’d rather adjust the VMT so that it’s cheaper to move that freight by rail.

                  I’ll let stomv argue his own case. My posture is that we have made the mistake of subsidizing highways and automobiles for generations, and have a created a monstrous and self-destructive habit that threatens ALL of us. I think that a culture (not individuals, but a culture) who claims that commuting 45 miles each day should continue to be subsidized in order to maintain “convenience” (ie, no increase in costs) is a broken culture.

                  So, to answer your question, no I do not ask people who live in Chicopee to pay for the privilege having trucks pass through to stock my CVS. Instead, I’d rather set up economic incentives so that those goods travel by rail into, say, the North Station yards (oh, I forgot, we dismantled them to build highways) and get moved by truck from their to my CVS.

                • it goes both ways massdad

                  you don’t want to help fund Boston-area projects. I don’t want to help fund Western Mass projects.

                  Boston-area projects are more expensive per mile, BUT we have far more tax revenue per mile to help pay for it… and fewer miles. Western Mass projects, though cheaper per mile, are more miles, and have far less tax revenue to pay for it.

                  You and others have gone out of your way to poo-poo the idea of everybody in the state paying for everything in the state, as you don’t want to pay for Boston-metro infrastructure.

                  I wonder: why does my reciprocal feeling engender such frustration?
                  Note: I would gladly raise the toll price, excise tax, and use fees for tractor trailers significantly, and then the consumers of those products [and the sellers] would eat the cost, not the folks who happen to live along the delivery route.

                  And by the way, aren’t you asking the people of Boston to pay for the privilege of folks driving through their town so your banks can be managed, your companies have good legal firms, etc.? It’s the same argument there, too.

                  • I think a better point is

                    Eastern Mass.’s infrastructure enables the state income-tax revenues that pay for Western Mass.’s schools, police, DPW, and other services.

                    Not all of it, but substantial shares.

                    Springfield, for instance, gets more than $300 million this year in state aid. That’s more than 60% of the budget.

                    Quibble if you like about how this wealth is distributed, but don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

        • "From Chelmsford north to the state line"

          Unless you’re going to somehow apply your VMT to NH residents, it’s not going to address the wear on that part of Rte 3. A large majority of the vehicles on Rte 3 north of 495 are from NH. A toll at the border would at least get some of them to contribute. A southbound-only toll would also have a metering effect on the huge volume of rush-hour traffic from there. Right now, things are back to the way they were before the road was widened, which I understand is the typical result of widening highways to reduce congestion.

          • "Border tolls and video technology"

            From the third link (paragraph eight):

            Out-of-state license plates can be captured and assessed through conventional border tolls and video technology.

            Don’t get me started on the yahoo freeloaders who move to NH, whine and bitch on talk radio about MA taxes, and drive to MA jobs every day (and generally fly in and out of Logan when they need to go somewhere, and generally send themselves and their loved ones to Boston hospitals when they need medical care).

            NH has had tolls on the roads used by MA vacationers for decades — border tolls on Rt 3, I-93, and I-95 (the northern end) are a fine idea. Yes, we have to work some magic regarding the federal restrictions on interstate tolls to make that happen. I’m old enough to remember when the state of NH promised to extend commuter rail from Lowell to Concord NH in exchange for federal approval to rebuild (and widen) Rt 3 from the state line through Nashua. The highway construction happened immediately. The commuter rail has never materialized.

            &#60flame>We’ve coddled and subsidized our NH commuters long enough. I think it’s time to toll them, tax them, and maybe even suggest that they make their living in NH. I hear Manchester is a great place to launch new companies. I’m sick to death of their whining. (For Christopher: that’s how I sound when I do insult a group of people :) )&#60/flame>

            • Character entities

              I’m pretty sure (though not 100%, there’s some chance that I dropped the trailing semi-colon) that I did the character entities correctly for my last paragraph, and I’m sure that whatever I did rendered properly in the preview. Perhaps there’s a bug in entity handling? I believe the encoded for a less-than sign is ” & # 60 ;”

              <random-tag>Just testing</random-tag>

            • The reason commuter rail was not extended to NH

              Last time, it was Nashua NIMBYs. I really wanted that extension to happen, because it would have made working jobs in Boston feasible for me. The local train stop was to be a nice walk from my home.

              Maybe a border toll would help overcome the NIMBY opposition. In retrospect, I think it was a mistake to widen Rte 3 all the way to the NH border. They should have stopped when they got to Tyngsboro.

              • Yes, I remember

                Thank you for reminding me that not all NH commuters are right-wing yahoos, I of course meant no offense to you. I do get annoyed by the crowd I pilloried.

                The failure to do the extension harms the entire region. The current terminus, at Lowell, is totally unworkable even from surrounding towns in MA, because of the many challenges of getting to IT from just about anywhere. I lived in Billerica, and even the North Billerica station is (or was, it’s been more than 20 years) a commuter’s disaster. The proposed stops in Tyngsboro and behind Pheasant Lane Mall would have made Boston and also Manchester and Concord accessible (assuming reasonable service intervals).

                I suspect that the entire Rte 3 project was a mistake. I do welcome the safer roadway (the old highway, while beautiful, was dangerous because of the trees and boulders in the old median), but the project as a whole only demonstrates the futility of attempting to build our way our way out of situations like this.

                We can only imagine what the region might be like had all those funds been invested in commuter rail instead of replacing an old traffic-clogged nightmare with a new traffic-clogged nightmare.

                • I see what I did

                  I inadvertently implied that the proposed Nashua train stop was a nice walk from my home. I meant the North Chelmsford one. I have no quibble with any of what you said about commuting Hamsters. What’s really galling about the failure to institute commuter service into NH is that the right-of-way is already there.

                  And “replacing an old traffic-clogged nightmare with a new traffic-clogged nightmare” is exactly what we did. So far, the massive wave of NH traffic is not flooding side roads the way it used to, but I expect it will before long. I see people living in the area complaining once again about not being able to get out of their driveways. Moar hiwaze is not an good answer to problems of moving people around.

      • More about congestion pricing

        An aspect of congestion pricing that I want to be sure we keep on the table is the way in which it promises to alleviate at least some of the more devastating impacts of overly-congested highways.

        Consider a highway like Route 3 between Chelmsford and the NH line or I-93 between I-495 and Boston. During drive time, the road is so totally overwhelmed with commuter traffic that ALL the interchanges freeze, excess traffic clogs all the local roads in the vicinity, and nobody gets anywhere. The brute-force solution that we always seem to end up with is to build out the highway and interchanges to try and handle these periods of peak density. Sadly, we’ve learned at least two lessons from this: (1) All that capacity is devastating to the surrounding environment, hugely expensive to acquire and build out, and sits empty and idle most of the time, and (2) The added capacity, if it temporarily eases the problem, motivates MORE people to move into the area, MORE people to drive, and ultimately makes the problem worse rather than better.

        The patterns we see on I-93 before and after the Big Dig confirm the projections of this that were made during contentious negotiations around the Big Dig. The old central artery was enough of a bottleneck that I-93 (north of the city) ended up being used primarily by commuters going somewhere accessible from I-93. It was thick at drive-time, but it was possible to get from Woburn to Boston in something like thirty minutes even at 8:30a. Not now. What we see now is that I-93 is literally a parking lot from the entrance to the tunnels (and the connector) all the way past Reading. I’m not talking about stop-and-go, I’m talking about sit-and-read-the-paper stopped.

        I therefore think that an aspect of congestion pricing that we need to keep on the table is to use it to provide strong incentives for commuters to find alternatives. I also think it should be priced to essentially prohibit truck traffic during periods of high congestion — I can’t believe that gasoline tankers, rubbish haulers, delivery trucks, grocery trucks, and so on HAVE to be on that road at that time.

        I’m therefore strongly drawn to a model that says we charge premium prices for those who choose to commute on those overly-clogged routes, and use the resulting revenue to provide affordable, convenient, and reliable public transportation alternatives. Our region is criss-crossed with dozens and dozens of former railroad and inter-urban right-of-ways. I suggest that rebuilding a vigorous and robust light-rail network is a winning strategy that we should pursue (I write this in anticipation of brick-bats from dhammer :) ).

        I rather strongly suspect (though I haven’t done the engineering) that a self-propelled electric streetcar on steel rails, powered by some combination of solar and batteries (maybe with some form of induction energy transfer if we want to get exotic) could outperform ANYTHING using soft tires rolling on hard surfaces.

        • Used to live in Medfah

          never made it in 30 min at 8:30 am.

          If I could I would not have spent so many pleasant hours on the Orange Line

          • I commuted from Billerica and Dunstable to Cambridge

            I wish that commuter rail had been an option (it never was).

            I did, however, get to know the side-roads (like Rt 28/38) really well.

  13. Local carveout/surtax in VMT?

    I wonder if it would be possible to allow cities and towns to apply local surtaxes to a VMT and/or carve out a portion of the revenue, so that we lessen the dependence on local aid and property taxes. While police, fire, and schools are usually the dominant line items in a town’s annual budget, DPW/Highway maintenance is always there. Such an exclusion would, I think, preserve the ability of towns — especially in Central and Western MA — to influence the traffic that flows through them. I suspect that a huge portion of the traffic in that part of the state is from vehicles passing through a specific town, rather than to or from it.

  14. To liveandletlive regarding pike tolls

    My recollection and understanding is that Pike tolls were used to fund the Big Dig which understandably left westerners wondering why they were paying for it with their tolls if many of them did not drive in Boston that often. Personally I think tolls should only pay for the roads on which they are collected. If we wanted to pay for the Big Dig with tolls we should have tolled portions of I-93.

    I also oppose the VMT, not so much for privacy concerns as it is just more nickle-and-diming. I swear we are going to bring our economy and quality of life to a halt if we keep coming up with ways to tax for every time we locomote. There needs to be freedom of movement which will be constrained if we have to pay the tax man everytime we leave our residence.

    • Nickel and diming?

      According to sources like this, the MBTA faces a shortfall of $130M next year, dwarfed by the $240M shortfall in the highway system. Neither number includes repair or replacement costs.

      In my neck of the woods, $370M just to keep the current mess going is not “nickle-and-diming”.

      It IS possible to “locomote” on foot and by bicycle. You seem to have the mistaken notion that we have some sort of God-given natural right to drive wherever we want whenever we want, and it sounds like you expect society to just somehow magically pay for it.

      Of all the things that compete for our government spending, it seems to me that transportation is the ONE area where it makes the most sense to adopt a pay-for-consumption model — such a model is good social policy, good economic policy, good tax policy, good environmental policy, and even good health policy.

      I am, frankly, mystified by your apparent attachment to this mistaken idea that taxing highway use is some kind of affront to human rights.

    • I agree Christopher

      Nickle and diming, more dealing with RMV style customer service issues, voice directives, press 1 now, your hold time is 5 minutes, correspondence, billing. I can’t even bear the thought of it. I choose a simpler life to avoid all of that. This is just going way over the top and is leading us in a direction we can’t possibly allow.

    • If you take a walk

      I’ll tax your feet

  15. Pay for consumption is another term for fee

    See my other comment on this thread and the first comment on Ryan’s progressive ideas diary about transportation infrastructure being “free” by which I mean supported by general, preferably income, taxation. Certainly you realize biking and walking are often not options. Biking is completely off the table for me as I’ve never been able to do that comfortable probably owing to my (thankfully very mild) cerebral palsy. Obviously distance is a factor and sometimes you have to carry more than you can on foot or bike.

    Yes, quite frankly I DO in 21st century America expect to not be expected to become Amish. We should have the ability to get where we want, when we want, and how we want. Make it more efficient to do this without sacrificing convenience and I’ll be more than happy to go along. There are competing values at work here and I see absolutely nothing wrong with trying to find some balance.

    • I'm all for balance

      This thread started with proposals from James Aloisi about how to put our transportation infrastructure onto a sustainable footing.

      What we have now is not balanced. What we have done until now is not balanced. There is a world of difference between proposing to “become Amish” and where we are.

      An enormous portion of the problems we face today are the direct and indirect consequences of our decision to subsidize roads and highways, starting about WWII. This drives the multiple catastrophes of global warming, foreign petroleum dependence (and the trillions of dollars we spend on efforts to “stabilize” petroleum production), US land use, a host of social and environmental consequences.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “sacrificing convenience”, but I am sure that ALL OF US will have to either pay more for transportation, use our cars less, think of our cars differently (I’m thinking of ZipCar here), or some combination of all these.

      If by “balance”, you mean “zero new fees”, then I strongly disagree with you. If, instead, you mean that we need to find an approach that both puts our transportation infrastructure on a sustainable footing and does so by spreading the increased costs in an equitable way, then I’m sure a solution exists.

      Regardless of the technology used to implement it, I think that some form of VMT is the best of the approaches put forward so far. Any increase in the income tax, unless we somehow get a graduated tax in place, will hurt the poor, working, and middle classes far more than the contemplated VMT.

  16. I think the only solution is to microchip MBTA riders

    Just a simple wrist scan gets them on any public transportation service. Then, when they go to file their taxes each year, just a quick scan of the wrist will transfer all of the T use data right into the accountants database. This is a convenient, cost effective, and foolproof way that T riders can pay for their ridership.

  17. A general point

    I am absolutely in favor of making mass transit more user friendly, more service, reduced or ideally no fares, build more rails even so that not just Boston can be a rail hub.

    However, I just want to state point blank that which maybe I’ve only hinted at. Paved highways too are a vital part of our transportation infrastructure. They should be maintained and upgraded to handle the evolving traffic patterns and capacity. I want no part of looking down our noses at a supposedly debased culture of roads and cars. This was a key part of the post-WWII economic boom this country experienced. It gave us suburbia and lifted untold numbers of Americans into the middle class. Instead of forcing people whose lives still depend on this, or who frankly just like the culture and lifestyle this represents to pay through their noses in an effort to change behavoir why not just force standards that will ultimately get the same result?

    Progressive priorities IMO should be the aforementioned greater access to public transit and greater required efficiency for vehicles, or even require fossil-fuel free cars by a certain year. Those who call for yet more targeted taxes are doing a horrible job dispelling the stereotypes attached to liberals about wanting to tax anything that (in this case literally) moves and trying to dictate how people live their lives. Make this about opportunity and potential rather than cost and sacrifice.

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