Op-ed: How to raise revenue for transportation
The MBTA Red Line derailment was a tipping point in the longstanding discussion about addressing our transportation needs. We need dramatic interventions to create a 21st-century transportation system that supports our economy and high quality of life. Recent polling shows we risk losing talent to other states due to people’s frustrations about their commutes.
Many business organizations, including A Better City, believe that any real solution to our transportation woes must not only involve reforms and accountability legislation, but also new revenue. The question becomes: how to do it?
Both the Massachusetts Senate and the House have indicated they will consider legislation that includes new revenue for transportation. While there are different approaches to solving our transportation crisis, the top priority is action. Legislation needs to pass this session to move the commonwealth forward. As the business community considers solutions, a revenue package must adhere to a set of fundamental principles:
- Address Statewide Needs: The T is in the headlines, but A Better City’s recent State of the Built Environment report showed substandard roads and bridges are the state’s biggest hurdles in reaching a systemwide state of good repair.
- Address Congestion and Climate Goals: We must prioritize mass transit, pricing for behavior change, and begin work on resilient infrastructure to achieve greenhouse gas reduction.
- Use Transportation Sources: Additional funding for transportation should come from transportation user-fees, like the gas tax, fees on Lyft and Uber rides, and expanded roadway pricing. It is realistic to generate the investments we need without seeking broad-based taxes.
- Be Comprehensive: We’re all in this together. When the Red Line underperforms, it forces commuters onto already-congested roads. We need to recognize the interconnectedness of our systems and allow toll revenue to support transit and other alternative modes to driving. Smart pricing can create the right incentives for an efficient mobility system that benefits all users, especially drivers.
- Regional Fairness: Senate President Spilka often talks about fairness in the context of tolling, as drivers entering Boston from Metrowest have paid tolls since 1964, while cars entering Boston from other directions do not. We agree that tolling parity must be on the table, as well as other options to ensure regional and socioeconomic fairness.
- Strengthen Management Policies: Thanks to the Baker administration and the work of the MBTA's Fiscal Management and Control Board, the MBTA has made tremendous progress. It is contingent upon all of us, especially the business community, to build upon this work, strengthen MassDOT’s management accountability, examine the MBTA pension system, and enhance project delivery efforts at the T.
Our report showed we need that approximately $1 billion per year of new funding to bring our system into a state of good repair, and many important transportation projects are currently unfunded. However, there is a path forward that achieves all of these goals and delivers the modern and reliable transportation system residents are demanding and deserve.
This article was published in the Boston Business Journal on July 25th, 2019 at 1:19pm