Opinion

Opinion | Andrew Salzberg

Uber supports charging more tolls to reduce traffic in Boston

Boston, MA - 7/25/2017 - Vehicles make their way through traffic along Washington Street in Boston, MA, July 25, 2017. (Keith Bedford/Globe Staff)
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Vehicles make their way through traffic along Washington Street in Boston, July 2017.

If there’s one thing Boston commuters can agree on, it’s that too much time is spent stuck in traffic. That’s not just our pessimistic side coming through — it’s a fact. Last year, Boston was ranked as one of the most congested urban areas in the country.

If there’s a second thing commuters can agree on, it’s that our subway and commuter rail systems are in drastic need of investment.

This is also a fact. Boston’s transportation system was recently ranked 42nd in the country by US News & World Report. Public transit is suffering from underinvestment and has not kept up with a growing population, especially as people live and work farther away from Boston’s downtown core.

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There is one solution that policy experts agree could help fix these two problems at the same time: putting a price on road use and allowing that new revenue to fund mass transit. “Congestion pricing” is viewed by urban planners, transit advocates, and academics as one of the best ways to ease the road congestion that is choking cities across the world, including Boston.

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As a company whose business is based on moving customers on the streets and roadways of Massachusetts, Uber is committed to supporting congestion pricing as part of our broader campaign for sustainable mobility. It’s not a simple solution, and it’s not one that we can get done on our own. But we believe that all vehicles should pay to use the roads — personal vehicles, delivery trucks, taxis and — yes — Uber. That’s the only way to manage roads and raise enough money to fix what has become a massive problem.

But a fee on roads obviously only works where people have easy and equitable access to transportation alternatives. Unsurprisingly, according to a recent Boston Transportation Department report, those households that live farther away from transit drive more.

Increasing access to quality public transit would give people alternatives to driving and help people rely less on personal vehicles — nearly 40 percent of Bostonians currently drive alone to commute. The numbers are higher in neighborhoods that have less access to the T. In Hyde Park, for instance, 60 percent of residents drive to work. In Mattapan, it’s 49 percent. In West Roxbury, 70 percent. To fully get people out of their cars, we need to enhance public transit in areas that are woefully underserved. By investing in mass transit, a well designed road price can help ensure that citizens of all income levels ultimately gain from the new policy.

A well designed congestion pricing scheme could also change behavior even for those who still choose to drive — giving people financial incentives to drive at less congested times. If you choose to enter Boston’s downtown core at the busiest and most congested times, you pay a bit more. If you choose to avoid the most congested areas and times, you pay less. People would have the choice to drive outside of rush hour to save money, choose other means of transportation, or pay more to drive where and when they want.

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It’s clear what needs to be done. What may be unclear is why Uber believes so strongly in investing in public transportation and reducing congestion. Don’t we benefit from more cars on the street?

The truth is we share the same goals as others who are invested in the future of our shared transportation infrastructure. We know our riders depend on quality transit, since research has revealed they use transit more than average. Congestion also makes our riders’ journeys longer than they need to be. Finally, no driver likes hitting the brakes every few seconds — not to mention the environmental damage and economic waste of persistent traffic jams.

Uber is ready to work with all stakeholders interested in a road pricing solution that works for the Boston area. We know that imposing fees on an activity that is a necessary part of so many people’s daily lives can be hard. But we are confident that the benefits of a carefully designed road pricing system that eases congestion while transforming public transit will far outweigh the downsides.

Uber is ready to do its part and pay its fair share, and we believe it will be well worth the investment. For everyone.

Andrew Salzberg is head of transportation policy for Uber.