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Congestion pricing in Boston: Is 2019 the year?

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It’s not a particularly popular idea, but it could serve as a revenue stream for a woefully inadequate T

Michael Moloney/Shutterstock

New York City starting in January will slap a surcharge on trips into the busiest parts of Manhattan at the busiest times of day by for-hire cars, including traditional cabs and the app-hailed likes of Uber and Lyft.

It will be the closest that any major U.S. city has yet come to congestion pricing—or charging motorists to access certain areas at certain periods. (An effort to institute a more sweeping congestion pricing setup for Manhattan failed.)

Might New York’s baby step lead to something similar, or bolder, in Boston?

Congestion pricing is not a new idea in the Boston area, and tolls are a fact of life along the region’s highways. But neither the city nor the state has ever gotten behind a fee for accessing the core commercial areas of Boston during rush hours. In fact, even when motorists choose to stay off the roads then, they’re tolled at the same rate as people racing about at 6 p.m.

Also, the idea—not surprisingly—is not that popular with the public, and it would take expending some serious political capital to enact it. Plus, it could be a logistical headache planning which areas to charge for and how.

But there is an impetus for enacting some form of congestion pricing in Boston sooner rather than later—and, again, we can look to New York.

There, the anticipated hundreds of millions that the cab and app-hailed surcharges are expected to raise annually will go toward improving Gotham’s cartoonishly bad mass transit and to improving the accessibility of for-hire vehicles too.

Given that the Boston region’s mass transit can be similarly frustrating—breakdowns, delays, cancellations, etc.—why not swing behind congestion pricing as a revenue-generating solution? Heck, even Uber, which has done so much to add so many cars to the region’s roads, supports the idea precisely because it could help the T.

Your thoughts?