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The City
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Shouldn't Chicago finally join the ranks of great cities and charge drivers a toll for entering the central area? Imagine, a toll for all cars entering downtown (or Lakeshore Drive) south of North Avenue or north of Cermak, with revenue being used to fund transit. Seems silly? Seems like downtown companies will move to the 'burbs or lose business? Well Boston is facing the same predicament and same risks, but they may do it. Why not Chicago? Please read:

Boston Commuters May Soon Pay Fee
Fee eyed for those who drive into Hub
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff | March 30, 2005

A city councilor is looking to turn Boston into a commuter toll zone so that people who drive into the city would have to pay to enter.

Saying the half-million commuters who drive into Boston each day are major contributors to traffic and parking congestion, Councilor Paul J. Scapicchio wants the city to look into requiring passes costing $1 to $5 daily and catching scofflaws by installing cameras to record license plates of cars crossing over from the suburbs without the passes. Today, he will ask for a council hearing to explore the idea.

Modeling his proposal on a similar program in London and an effort under consideration in San Francisco, Scapicchio said the fees would help fund public transit and road improvements in a city that has struggled in recent years.

''This program could remedy three problems: congestion, pollution, and the lack of revenue," said Scapicchio. ''This could discourage the use of our overburdened roadways and create a revenue source to fix our falling bridges and pothole-filled streets."

Such a measure would probably encounter stiff resistance from major downtown employers and from retailers that depend on the daily tide of shoppers pouring into the city. The Legislature, which would have to approve any tax increase for Boston, could also stand in the way, as it has on several recent tax proposals from the city.

But conservationists and some public officials, including Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Frederick P. Salvucci, the former state transportation secretary, already say they like the idea.

''Anything we could do to help reduce congestion on the streets of our city, we're willing to take a serious look at," Menino said.

Scapicchio, who represents the North End, emphasized that the idea is in the early stages and said council hearings would be the first step in a process of hammering out the best proposal. He said he would use London's program as a starting point for discussions.

Under that plan, motorists driving into an 8-square-mile section of London between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. require a $10 pass that can be purchased ahead of time online, over the phone, or at locations throughout the area. A network of more than 700 cameras photographs drivers' licenses plates. Drivers without the passes are fined at least $90.

Six months after the system took effect in February 2003, traffic was reduced by 18 percent, with a 30 percent reduction in auto traffic and a 20 percent increase in bus and taxi ridership, according to the Commission for Integrated Transport, which advises the British government.

Salvucci, who will visit London in two weeks to look at the program, said it is successful because the revenue it generates goes into improvements to the city's public transit system.

''My understanding is that it wasn't an instant hit when they talked about it," he said of the London system. ''But the mayor had the guts to try it, and they did a good job of implementing it."

But he said there is no guarantee the plan would work here.

''Boston is a transit-oriented city, but it's certainly not London," he said. ''It really has to be considered carefully. Kudos to Scapicchio for putting the idea on the table. It's the kind of thing we should be looking for."

Philip Warburg, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said the plan could reduce pollution in Boston at the same time it is funding key transportation projects, such as an extension of the Green Line from Lechmere to Medford and linking the Blue and Red lines at Charles Street and Massachusetts General Hospital.

''The Commonwealth faces very severe funding constraints in honoring transit commitments that it made 15 years ago and reaffirmed in the year 2000," he said. ''It behooves the Commonwealth to come up with the necessary funding mechanisms to deliver on those transit commitments."

Business leaders said any proposal that penalizes people for coming into the city could harm an already limping downtown economy and potentially cause businesses to think about expanding in the suburbs or moving out of the city altogether.

''At a time when we have seen lower employment and higher commercial vacancy rates in the city of Boston, we would be opposed to anything that adds a burden to either individual employees or employers," said Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

The proposal would also face a tough battle on Beacon Hill, where legislators from the suburbs could be expected to oppose it.

The proposal won little praise from commuters who drive into the city regularly. Many said traffic and high parking costs are deterrent enough.

''We're coming into the city to do business, which generates income," said Jeff Regan, a Citizens Bank employee who drives from Methuen at least twice a week. ''Anybody in their right mind wouldn't be commuting in that mess unless they absolutely have to."

Keith Becker, who works in sales for Verizon, has a commuter rail pass but drives into the city from his home in Reading several times a month.

''People who drive in are already being punished by exorbitant parking rates," Becker said. ''I think we're getting taxed just so many places now."

Some, however, said they would grudgingly accept fees if the money went toward commuting alternatives.

''If I had to pay to drive into the city, I would much prefer that it go into public transit," said Jim Kerr, a lawyer from Lexington. ''If it were properly invested I would feel less resentful."

Globe correspondent Scott Goldstein contributed to this report.
 

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What'u smokin' Willis?
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I have never felt the need to use any tollway in the metro area. There is always another road right next to the tollway that will only cost you 5-10 minutes.

So if Chicago wants to build toll plazas, fine. I'll just be getting off the expressway a few blocks earlier.
 

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hydrogen said:
How about only the suburbanites have to pay? Call it an "asshole tax." J/k ;)
As a former suburbanite, we are not ALL assholes, we should confine to the northside, we know what those north surburban sorts are like :jk:

/former south suburbanite with a chip on her shoulder ;)
 

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It is an attractive option, but there is a delicate balance between discouraging people to DRIVE downtown, and discouraging people to COME downtown.

I would love it if everyone from the suburbs took the train downtown. I just don't want a situation where people would avoid downtown completely because of the tolls. I think the sad reality is that at least some of the suburbanites would probably decide downtown is too much of a hassle if they can't drive...no matter how dumb that thought process actually is.

Some people may say, 'why do we care about making things convienient for suburbanites?' Well, they spend money in the city too. There are plenty of suburbanites who are from the city and still come to the city regularly.
 

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I agree with the posters in here. This is a horrible idea. Besides, having lived in London and Chicago, I can say they are TOTALLY different animals and the mentality of people here in Chicago would be to not even come downtown. Unlike London, Chicago is not totally transit oriented. Nowhere CLOSE to the system there. It is not inconvenient to NOT drive into London. It is at the very least semi-inconvenient to NOT drive into Chicago (the circle line and merging metra with cta, and putting an el stop at union station would fix this, but that is a LONG way off and needs to be the first step before we consider a toll downtown). Plus the density is WAY higher in London, and the development/sprawl just CUTS OFF so all the good shopping is downtown and in the city limits. In Chicagoland, there is a huge area of sprawl which has all the shopping and restaurants one could ever need, so why give people another reason to shop in the suburbs rather than in the city?

These suburbanites already have to deal with major congestion and a long drive to get here and spend their [very important and much needed] money in downtown. Charging a toll just sets an extra barrier and I could see Chicago losing business to the suburbs, especially with shopping, entertainment, restaurants, etc., to which the suburbs have PLENTY. You are effectively psychologically walling off downtown to these customers. I want Chicago to GROW and be BUSY and prosper, not just the government to find another way to take people's money. Yes this would reduce "congestion" but no crap, there will be less people coming into the city! :)
 

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people would stop going to downtown... streets might be filled because people dont want to go to downtown..

but here is an option from me..

Bulldoze every exit(in the downtown area) from I-90/I-94 beside the I-290 ramp to LOOP and the Ohio Feeder Ramp..
 

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Wow, what an odd idea.

All I know is, I usually take the train when I'm in Chicago- leave the car at with my friends in Arlington Heights and hop on the Metra.
It's soooo cheap, and with gas as high as it is, I can't hardly afford not to take the train.
 

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wickedestcity said:
i think one of the reasons our downtown has thrived so much is becouse we dont strangle it! **** the tolls! excuse my french
Actually because our downtown never restricted automobile commuters and instead encouraged automobile travel into the city during 50's and 60's countless buildings, including the Garrick theater by Louis Sullivan and plenty of others were destroyed to make way for bland parking garages and lots. So yes we actually have strangled our downtown before and the automobile is the main contributer.
 

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Bad idea. I agree with the other posts, it will very much discourage suburbanites from comming downtown. Aside from that, the city and Cook County make a shit load of money on the parking garage/lot taxes. The parking taxes alone at the Millenium Park garage are helping pay for the construction of the park above. I say increase the taxes on the garages and lots slightly, and fork over the additional revenue to the CTA.
 

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I favor a much more organic growth.

As the central city continues to surge, let traffic pile on until people are cramming the CTA and demanding improvements.
 
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