Wilson proposes bill:
House reviews legislation to limit auto usage
By Karen Kaplan
Two bills written by Professor of Mechanical Engineering David G. Wilson were introduced to the Massachusetts House Committee of Taxation by Rep. Paul C. Casey (D-Winchester) on April 23. The bills propose several parking fees and suggest the establishment of a fund to improve non-automotive transportation.
[it0,6p6] Both bills have been "put into study" for further investigation and assessment of the costs of implementation, according to Casey.
"I want to propose legislation that creates positive incentives for people to drive less, [so] that things that are personally beneficial will also be socially beneficial," explained the 63-year-old Wilson, who bicycles eight miles to and from the Institute each day.
The first of the two bills, titled "A Bill to Rationalize Con[it0,0]gestion Pricing Applied to Parking Fees," proposes the imposition of a parking "tax" on drivers by installing curb-side parking meter systems where "the demand for parking is greater than the number of available places during at least an average of 15 hours per week."
The fees imposed would be variable, and high enough so that on average, "at least 10 percent of the parking places are free at all times." All private parking facilities within half a mile of curb-side parking meter systems would also be charged "a fee equal to one-half the highest local curb-side parking charges for every vehicle using their facilities."
The second bill, called "A Bill to Establish a Transportation Trust Fund," would distribute money collected from parking fees and related fines so
that the bulk of it is used to promote "non-automotive transportation, including pedestrian movement, human-powered-vehicle movement (including bicycles), and various forms of public transit."
In addition, small shares of the fund could be used to make transportation improvements and cover administrative costs. Currently, money collected from fines goes into the states' general fund.
Economic incentives can
encourage beneficial behavior
By raising the cost of driving, Wilson hopes his bill will provide an economic incentive for people to drive less, thereby reducing congestion, making more parking available, and cutting back on many types of pollution. He cited an example of de-subsidized parking in California that resulted in a 50 percent decrease in driving. Wilson also believes many lives and injuries could be spared if people [it0,0]drove less.
"Things are always wasted if they are free," Wilson said. He believes that a parking tax is an ideal way to make motorists face the full social costs of their driving. In fact, according to Wilson, drivers should be willing to pay the tax because the resulting convenience would far outweigh the cost.
Wilson considered proposing a more traditional gasoline tax, but felt it would be ineffective, as motorists could go to New Hampshire to fill up their tanks.
According to Wilson, government studies have estimated that automobile drivers receive annual indirect subsidies of about $3000 each. This figure includes land costs, upkeep of parking facilities, and
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guards. Wilson said other social costs of driving that are not paid by motorists include deaths and injuries resulting from automotive accidents, as well as the environmental damage caused by emission of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances.
Wilson, Casey optimistic
Casey believes that these bills have a lot of potential because of their environmentally beneficial impact.
"They are both fascinating bills," said Casey. "[Wilson's] ideas are very controversial. He really put his neck on the line. I thought [the House Committee on Taxation] would deny the bill right away, to tell the truth," he continued.
The committee was impressed by both of Wilson's bills, according to Jessica Leitz, Casey's legislative aide.
"These two bills were of particular interest to the [taxation] committee," Leitz said. "They were really innovative. They don't get fresh new ideas like this often," she added.
Wilson is optimistic that his two bills may influence state representatives, even if it takes "12 or 13 years," as some of his other legislative efforts have.
Wilson has proposed many bills to provide economic incentives for socially beneficial behavior over the past 20 years while serving on numerous committees, panels and commissions both here and in Washington, DC.
As a cyclist, Wilson claims to have been "left for dead twice by motorists, lassoed from the back of a convertible, had bottles thrown at me, and had plenty of people try to kill me." However, on the relatively rare occasions when he drives, he said, "I love it."