In the news

Boston Globe

By
Nicole Dungca

Transportation for Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group want you to imagine a state with cleaner air, fewer traffic jams, and less of your money going to the gas pump.

The two advocacy groups say there’s a simple way to make it reality: Encourage less driving in Massachusetts.

In a report to be released Monday, researchers say Massachusetts drivers can save about $2.3 billion annually if they hit the road just one percentage point less than they’re projected to drive from 2015 to 2030.

MassPIRG’s John Olivieri, one of the authors, said he was struck by how a small reduction in driving could make such a big impact. He said he hopes the Legislature, Governor Charlie Baker, and the state transportation department look at the report as a “call to action.”

“More than anything, we’re hoping that the Commonwealth takes this as an opportunity to make the kind of investments we really need,” he said.

In 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation forecasted that drivers would travel about 57.3 million miles. In 2020, that number would decrease slightly, to 56 billion.

The report imagined if that amount were lowered by just one percentage point. If that happened, drivers would save $857 million on gasoline, $785 million on car crashes, and $446 million on car repairs. The state would also save $224 million on road repairs, according to the figures.

Olivieri pointed out that the personal savings for drivers could eventually help the state in several ways. Though reductions in driving would cut down on revenue from the gas tax, the money saved could be used by residents for other purchases — and that would generate more state revenue through the sales tax. And if the state paid for less road repair because the streets weren’t as beat up, transportation officials could invest in other projects to help taxpayers.

The somewhat more salient point, however, is that drivers would be healthier, the environment would be cleaner, and traffic would be less terrible. And it doesn’t hurt that you’d have some extra money in your pocketbook.

The report has some interesting tidbits on driving: For example, property damage from car crashes costs about $240 per person every year in this country. Drivers in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, however, file claims at particularly high rates.

Boston drivers are about 2.5 times more likely to file a car crash claim than the average American driver — but anyone who has encountered some road rage during rush hour on the Pike might have guessed that.

Kirstie Pecci, executive director of MassPIRG, said she hopes the figures help reshape how people value transportation projects that may get more people off the road. She also thinks the state can do better than reducing the amount of driving by just one percentage point.

“That’s just the beginning,” she said. “This is just a first step.”

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