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Congestion pricing in Boston: Has its time arrived?

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Certainly looks like it in NYC

Roman Babakin/Shutterstock

New York City is closer than ever to enacting congestion pricing—that is, charging most motorists a fee for driving in and out of Manhattan’s main commercial districts.

The idea has the backing of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the sort-of backing, or at least not outright opposition, of New York Mayor (and Cambridge native) Bill de Blasio. Business groups are starting to line up behind it, and even ride-hailing apps such as Uber are saying they wouldn’t have a problem with the fee.

The idea behind congestion pricing is simple: To reduce vehicular traffic in congested areas by making it a cost-benefit analysis rather than a routine for drivers. Go in and about only if you absolutely need to—otherwise, take public transit, bike, or walk.

In New York’s case, too, the revenue from congestion pricing under the most recent proposal would go toward paying for much-needed repairs to the region’s public transit system, particularly the subway.

You know what other region needs money for its public transit system, particularly the subway? Yes, Boston.

The idea of charging drivers a fee for entering the city’s core is not a new one (and highway tolls are already a fact of life here). The idea has been bandied about to the point of mulling where officials might locate cameras to snap cars’ photos for fees.

But congestion pricing in Boston has never gotten beyond the idea phase. What if New York institutes it, though? (That could come as soon as this spring via the New York state budgeting process.)

New York would become the first city in the U.S. to enact congestion pricing. Would that be a tipping point for other clogged cities such as Boston?

The Boston region already boasts (?) some of the world’s worst traffic, the sort of jams that nibble away at quality of life and that have a very real economic impact on individuals, businesses, and the region as a whole.

And the T and the commuter-rail are routinely short of the capital funding necessary for substantive improvements to infrastructure and service. Plus, most T lines are just a headache to take on any given day.

Perhaps, then, the idea and its moment are about to meet in Boston: Congestion pricing to pay for public transit improvements and to curb traffic in busier areas.

Or the region can just wait for Amazon, privatize the whole shebang, and sit back. Alexa, get me to Logan ...