Mass. lawmakers take up debate on congestion tolling

BOSTON — Would you change your work schedule to avoid paying a higher toll? Massachusetts is considering an idea that would allow for bumps in tolls during the busiest times of the day.

The idea is to persuade people not to drive during those busy times.

Lawmakers are considering making rush hour commutes more expensive for drivers in an effort to deter people from driving during those times.

"The tolls at peak hours would be raised by 25 percent and at off-peak hours they would be lowered by 25 percent," Sen. Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop) said.

The Joint Committee on Transportation heard testimony on the idea Tuesday.

Chris Dempsey, who runs advocacy coalition Transportation for MA, told the committee the congestion pricing only needs to persuade a few drivers to change their routines.

"By getting five percent of cars off the road at rush hour -- creates a 20 percent decrease in the total traffic delay," Dempsey said.

Also a talking point: whether it's fair to charge higher tolls to people who have no flexibility in lower-paying jobs.

Sarah Fischer, who works a regular day shift at Bobbles and Lace, says she sits in rush hour traffic to get to and from work.

"Having to pay a higher fee just because you can't adjust other things to get in, I don't think is fair," she said.

Sarah Fischer said she would try to change her shift to avoid the higher toll but in her line of work -- she says that's not easy.

"Some regions will just exempt drivers below certain income levels from these tolls and these charges," Dempsey said.

Another concern some drivers have is this causing longer rush hours.

"If those were the options, then a lot of people would take those options and then rush hour would just shift to that earlier or later time," Fischer said.

The current legislation on the table would only be asking for the toll increases on roads that already use tolls.  So the expressway, which is one of the busiest roads, would not be impacted at this time.

"I don't think it will make up that much of a difference," Quincy resident Greg Harrington said. "Because they still have to pay for the train and change up a lot -- change up their commute."

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