By Bob Katzen

Governor Baker vetoed legislation directing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to design and implement a temporary pilot program to test the technological feasibility of charging toll rates that differ depending on the time of day, with the goal of relieving congestion for motorists.

The measure forbids the program from resulting in a toll rate increase on any road or driver and must include a discount structure, including off-peak discounts of not less than 25 percent.

“While I support the idea of reducing congestion on our roads, this … proposes a program that is too narrow and unlikely to have the desired effect of alleviating congestion,” Baker said in a message to the Legislature. “It would be better to evaluate all of the potential solutions to this problem and then pursue the solutions that are most likely to achieve the best results.”

Sen. Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop) and other proponents of the pilot program are disappointed with the veto. They said the program would have been an important first step toward taking some concrete action to solve the traffic congestion problem in the Bay State.

Boncore said the program is aimed at drivers who have more flexibility to use the roads during off-peak hours, instead of during rush hour. He noted that studies have shown that if the number of drivers on the road is reduced a mere 5 percent, traffic congestion could be reduced by 25 percent.

“Congestion not only strains our infrastructure, but it severely limits our economic potential,” said Boncore. “Smart tolling is an innovative use of an existing technology that can help use our roads more efficiently. If we can incentivize drivers that don’t need to be on the road during peak transit hours and reduce the number of vehicles, we will improve our traffic conditions and reduce stress to our infrastructure.”

“Hardworking Massachusetts residents who drive into Boston every day should not be punished any more than they already are,” said Paul Craney, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance,” who opposes the measure.

“The governor was right to veto this latest bad idea and if the state is serious about reducing traffic, which we hope they are, they should do it in a way that rewards good behavior, not punish those who give so much to our state’s economy. It would be a first to have a study commissioned by the Legislature in which the final outcome was that they wanted to reduce the amount of money they take from taxpayers.”

“It was smart of Gov. Baker to veto the congestion pricing bill,” said Citizens for Limited Taxation Executive Director Chip Ford. “It’s nothing more than a carrot-and-stick temptation, bait that will only be switched to higher tolls during rush hour.  This is Massachusetts.  We all know that when something sounds too good to be true it’s too good to be true for sure.”

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