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The Public Supports Road Pricing

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Congestion Pricing. Photo by .KM.

A very interesting study released earlier this month counters conventional wisdom, suggesting that a clear majority of people support tolling and road pricing. As the authors of the study, which analyzed numerous national and international public opinion surveys, clearly write in the conclusion of their report, “…in the aggregate, the public supports tolling and road pricing.”

The study’s findings will come as a surprise to many policy makers and elected officials who offer the standard response that tolling and road pricing are unpopular, and should therefore not be implemented lest they defy their constituents.

Traditionally, attempts to solve congestion have focused on building new roads or widening existing ones. But it’s clear that the strategy has not worked. That’s in large part because there’s a cyclical logic to road construction: as more roads are built more people want to drive cars, which in turn, drives the demand for ever more road construction. For decades now, there have been proposals for reducing the demand for road space by charging drivers who use it. But these proposals more often than not went nowhere in large part because of politics.

One of the more important conclusions of the study is that the public needs to be informed about any road pricing project. That is to say that the value of the project needs to be clearly articulated, past examples of successful pricing projects need to be held up, and the governments use of revenue generated from the tolls needs to be justified. In the case of New York City congestion pricing scheme, one that ultimately failed for political reasons, the revenue from pricing was earmarked to fund mass transit projects.

Overall, the study provides interesting insights, and good empirical evidence and arguments to further promote demand management schemes, such as tolling and congestion charging. We already know that road pricing can reduce congestion, pollution, auto accidents and global warming, while providing funding for efficient, clean and cool alternatives: walking, biking and public transport. We now know that, with the right information, people will make the right choices. For me, the clear lesson is that “you better inform and then ask the people”.

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