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Critics: $5 driving fee harmful to city, businesses, cancer patients

January 31, 2019

A climate panel’s push to charge cars $5 heading in and out of busy downtown areas would cut into city revenues, drive off businesses, and place an “undue burden” on motorists — especially chemo-therapy patients — according to broad range of critics red-lighting the controversial idea.

 “It strikes me as an idea that is crisis-level intervention and I’m not sure we’re at that level,” Chamber of Commerce President James E. Rooney told the Herald. “We have to try to create a better alternative.”

Rooney said forcing drivers out of the city would hurt businesses and could cut into city revenue, such as parking fees. In the fiscal year 2018, the city reported $61 million in parking fine revenue — before dramatic hikes went into effect. Rooney noted the cars that don’t drive into the city can’t be hit with the congestion fees or ticketed, and their drivers won’t be feeding parking meters.

“It’s not an insignificant amount of money,” Rooney said. He and other critics say it could hurt shops and restaurants and even make business owners consider moving elsewhere. “It’s not insignificant in behavioral choices. It would definitely affect business and location choices and be a disrupter.”

Susan Chaityn Lebovits of Boston Cancer Support said, “Patients are already facing financial battles due to copays, parking, gas, bills, items not covered by insurance, and more. The last thing anyone would want is for a patient to not go to treatment because they cannot afford to get there, which is something that we have seen too many times.”

She added that public transportation is not always a viable option: “Patients who are going through various chemotherapy and immunotherapy modalities, such as T cell transplantation, are immunosuppressed and cannot be exposed to large groups of people due to the high risk of infection.”

The report unveiled Tuesday by the Boston Green Ribbon Commission suggested charging $5 “for every trip made in a private vehicle that starts or ends within” Downtown, Back Bay, the Seaport or the Longwood Medical Area. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who set up the Carbon Free Boston Working Group, said he isn’t acting on the proposal “at this time,” though he has not ruled out the idea, telling reporters the recommendations from the report “were important.”

But Walsh said, “It doesn’t reflect my personal feelings. I’m not in favor of charging people $5 to come into the city of Boston. I think we made that clear yesterday when the report came out.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, who vetoed surge toll pricing on the Pike last summer, dismissed the fee proposal as “over-simplified,” but noted the Department of Transportation is conducting a study on congestion.

AAA spokeswoman Mary Maguire said, “AAA Northeast shares the concerns of many that fees such as those outlined in this report have the potential to be regressive—placing an undue burden on a significant number of motorists who are unable to shift or flex their commuting schedules.”

Others say clearing up congestion starts with improving the MBTA. Mela Miles, a Dorchester transit and climate advocate said, “We spend too much time trying to force people into doing things against their will rather than positively incentivizing people to do it. That’s what motivates people to change their habits.”

“We have to make the T a desirable option,” added Charlie Chieppo, a transportation watcher at the Pioneer Institute.

Drivers also voiced frustration. Anabell Cazariego, 31, an IT worker, said it isn’t fair for people like her who have to drive due to their hours, location or job demands.

“I already pay so much for parking,” Cazariego said.

Brittany Hackey, 23, of Waltham said, “I just think it’s stupid, it makes us just like New York and we already have to pay for everything else, so why do we have to continue paying when everything is so much already?”

Leo Araya, 57, of Revere said. “I drive everywhere, I do Uber. That’s completely wrong.”

Cutler Cleveland, the lead researcher behind the report, said, “One thing we want to emphasize is that it would need to be structured so it doesn’t harm low-income population.” He added, “There are other strategies in the report that reach the city’s climate mitigation goals. Don’t get too hung up on this one specific strategy.”

Read this article on BostonHerald.com