Boston Congestion Zone Charging

DominusNovus

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OK, so, just to be clear: The argument here is that you think it makes more sense to have the legislature revisit and vote on this annually (along with all the political fun this entails) rather than have the tax simply keep pace with the actual value of money? Is that correct? We're all on the same page?

Yes. See, the 'political fun' that the process entails is the entire point of the system: if elected leaders do things that voters don't like, they get punished. The elected leaders know this, and the voters know it, too. Its a wonderful check and balance that doesn't need any long dissertations on the nature of a bicameral system or federalism or super-majorities or filibusters or anything like that.

In short, the tedium of having to jump through hoops in order to get stuff done is a feature, not a bug.
 

George_Apley

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Yes, the principle of a representative republic is more important than a few potholes.
It's not about the principle of ensuring that the people's representatives have to vote on tax increases. I'd buy that, if that's what chained-CPI actually was. It's not. It's a maintenance of tax levels to adjust to inflation so that taxes stay constant. Not chaining taxes to inflation means that any year where there's inflation, there's a relative tax cut, and any year there's deflation there's a relative tax hike. Nothing principled about that.

On another note, if you're so ideological about representative republics you ought to be against voter referenda altogether. Ballot initiatives create an awful incentive in a representative democracy for the legislature to abrogate their legislative responsibilities on difficult issues by punting to the voters. It incentivizes brinksmanship by political parties and stakeholders to end-run around the legislative process if they believe their position on an issue is more politically palatable with the voters than with their elected representatives. It also functionally helps incumbent politicians avoid taking difficult votes that might get them booted out of office (which has a place of high value in a representative democracy) because they've avoided responsibility for the decisionmaking process.
 
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George_Apley

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The battlecry of the self-perpetuatingly electorally disadvantaged.
Not really, it's a demonstrable fact that voters often vote for counter-productive or downright contradictory policies. Doesn't matter if you're on the outs or not. I said the same thing when my political preferences were in power as I do now.
 

Shepard

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Some alternatives to congestion charging, without going back to the gas tax discussion:

- Dynamic market-rate street meter parking 24/7
- Commercial property "parking space excise tax" based on distance to transit - the more parking spots you maintain AND the closer to rapid transit you are, the higher an excise tax you pay
- Targeted tolls for targeted improvements - for example, don't necessarily toll 93 into the city but DO toll the Greenway - and use proceeds to fund a surface-level trolley.
 

bakgwailo

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Some alternatives to congestion charging, without going back to the gas tax discussion:

- Dynamic market-rate street meter parking 24/7
Speaking of which, has anyone heard of how dynamic metering has worked out where it has been deployed? Haven't heard or seen any data really on it.
 

DominusNovus

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Some alternatives to congestion charging, without going back to the gas tax discussion:

- Dynamic market-rate street meter parking 24/7
- Commercial property "parking space excise tax" based on distance to transit - the more parking spots you maintain AND the closer to rapid transit you are, the higher an excise tax you pay
- Targeted tolls for targeted improvements - for example, don't necessarily toll 93 into the city but DO toll the Greenway - and use proceeds to fund a surface-level trolley.
I like the first two ideas (though, I think there should just be higher meter rates). I do think 93 should be tolled first, though.
 

Justin7

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Yes. See, the 'political fun' that the process entails is the entire point of the system: if elected leaders do things that voters don't like, they get punished. The elected leaders know this, and the voters know it, too. Its a wonderful check and balance that doesn't need any long dissertations on the nature of a bicameral system or federalism or super-majorities or filibusters or anything like that.

In short, the tedium of having to jump through hoops in order to get stuff done is a feature, not a bug.
Interesting. Most people are aware of legislative gridlock and representatives who are exponentially more concerned with reelection than with governing, but it is rare to find someone who is in favor of such a mess.

Before backing away from this ridiculous discussion I'm going to reiterate that indexing a tax to inflation is not a tax increase in any real terms. Thankfully most of our other taxes are not static values. Our nation would have ceased to exist years ago.
 

BKNA

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Would have been nice if the legislature simply voted for a gas tax increase after the inflation measure was shot down, but they are a bit chicken shit so there is some truth to the argument that tying it to inflation was the easy way out for them.

In either case, I can't believe there has been this long discussion on gas tax and nobody has made the simple statement that a gas tax is antiquated and won't be able to fund transportation for much longer as we move to more and more effecient/electric vehicles. So why are we/they even worrying about future gas taxes?
VMT tax is the only way forward.
 

tangent

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Then change the gas tax to x%, not x cents per gallon. Solves your inflation issue and solves the issue that legislators actually vote to increase the tax.
except gas prices fluctuate wildly, so you can't rely on a percentage. Setting it to automatically rise with inflation solved the issue of the gas tax not keeping up with inflation.

I recall the main argument against the gas tax being pegged to inflation was that it takes away the right of future legislatures to set the rate... but the same logic applies to all taxes. I would agree with all taxes expiring every two years and having to be renewed. Take away the "raising/cutting" taxes false relativism and just make the legislature take responsibility for what-is.
 

tangent

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Just mentioned this the other day in another thread... with the shift to affordable and practical all electric cars along with autonomous safety features like collision avoidance I could very much see the benefit of making downtown electric only and requiring some minimum of autonomous collision avoidance system on passenger cars and maybe even trucks.

I would suggest around a ten year time frame. Maybe 12.

Air polluting cars and cars that rely on fault intolerant human drivers to avoid hitting things should be a thing of the past.
 

DominusNovus

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Would have been nice if the legislature simply voted for a gas tax increase after the inflation measure was shot down, but they are a bit chicken shit so there is some truth to the argument that tying it to inflation was the easy way out for them.

In either case, I can't believe there has been this long discussion on gas tax and nobody has made the simple statement that a gas tax is antiquated and won't be able to fund transportation for much longer as we move to more and more effecient/electric vehicles. So why are we/they even worrying about future gas taxes?
VMT tax is the only way forward.
If you think people had a problem with indexing it to inflation, they'll lose their shit over a mileage tax.
 

bakgwailo

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Something will have to be done as existing cars get more efficient/better gas mileage in the short term (thus making the collection of the gas tax even less in total value regardless of inflation), and the rise of electric/alternative fuel vehicles in the longer term phase it out all together.
 

tangent

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If you think people had a problem with indexing it to inflation, they'll lose their shit over a mileage tax.
What I object to on the mileage tax is the version with unnecessary GPS tracking of everyone to figure it all out.

It is an unnecessary overreach when we already check odometers every year at the annual inspection. We could pay a mileage tax at that point and it could just be billed through the income tax or spread out over monthly payments.
 

Arlington

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A study interesting for its demographics: most users of the Virginia HOT (Lexus Lanes) are not daily commuters but regular folks (kind of implying they use the lanes when they are running late or have a special event, like an interview or airport trip)

Here’s a look at who’s using Northern Virginia’s 495 and 95 express lanes
The average user is younger than 45 and has a household income of less than $100,000 a year,...
So when you ask yourself: who'd pay that congestion charge, the answer is somebody who had a special reason for being in the city, and for whom punctuality (and uncongested streets) really matter.
 

stefal

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I'm cringing at the number of lanes visible in the headline picture..
 

Arlington

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I'm cringing at the number of lanes visible in the headline picture..
The exit lanes on the right make it look wider than its usual 2HOT + 4.
https://goo.gl/maps/CnE5HitLuh22 (don't back southward if you browse around...you'll also go back in time before the HOTs were built)

But yes, this is Peak "Edge City" area, just south of Tysons Corner. The area is essentially DC's Waltham-Burlington, and you're at a spot roughly analogous to 128 northbound at Winter St in Waltham.

Still, that's what these things look like when maxed out, and it was good that in the process of maxing that Virginia implemented a PPP to add the HOT lanes and a congestion charge at least on the "last two" lanes added in each direction.

Bringing this back to a Boston CBD congestion charge, the grid in Boston (or any older city) has far more lanes, and was allowed to max-out with far less forethought. Take a North-South cross-section through Back Bay at Berkeley. From Storrow to Columbus, I count something like 30 lanes of East-West traffic (or ~40 lanes of asphalt if you include parking), and all of them bog down and none of them has congestion pricing. I cringe at that.
 

tangent

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There is a big difference between Lexus lanes and congestion charging.

Congestion charging is based on bringing the car into gridlocked/congested areas of a city at certain times of day, a Lexus lane is a completely different road that is dedicated to keeping the riff raf out so that people that have more money and a reason to get someplace faster can avoid suffering with the wee little people.

The fallacy with paid express lanes is that they don't negatively impact everyone else. But the truth is that they take up resources (at the very least space but also transportation planning time and money) that could otherwise be spent making transportation better for everyone.
 

Arlington

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There is a big difference between Lexus lanes and congestion charging.

Congestion charging is based on bringing the car into gridlocked/congested areas of a city at certain times of day, a Lexus lane is a completely different road that is dedicated to keeping the riff raf out so that people that have more money and a reason to get someplace faster can avoid suffering with the wee little people.

The fallacy with paid express lanes is that they don't negatively impact everyone else. But the truth is that they take up resources (at the very least space but also transportation planning time and money) that could otherwise be spent making transportation better for everyone.
The economics are basically identical (the only difference you describe is that HOT lanes are physically new/added, while congestion charges happen to apply to existing lanes (that happen to be in a grid zone, rather than linear)

The Virginia System is a lot like Congestion Charges:
1) SOVs pay the heaviest per-person share, by design
2) HOVs and Bus are thereby encouraged, and share the general benefit of less congestion, and the preferred way to "beat" the congestion charges at street level.
3) Excess $ is reinvested in mass modes that go "through" (like Bus that uses the lanes) and other modes that "go around" (like parallel rail)

In VA, the new HOT lanes on 95 will, for example, help pay for adding a 3rd or 4th track on the Commuter/Intercity line that runs parallel, similar to how London's congestion charge goes 80% to bus expansion.

Boston is something of a hybrid of sprawly Virginia and tubey London.
- The Pike and Artery are our "vehicle bypass"
- The NSRL would be an appropriate "rail alternative"
- Buses benefit from the higher road speeds, everywhere both on charged roads and nearby.
 
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