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Urban Road User Charging Online Knowledge Base
What Is Known About The Theme?
Public Acceptability: A Definition
In the past 15 years a range of studies dealt with acceptability of road pricing (for an overview see Schade and Schlag, 2003). A common finding of past research is the lack of conceptual clarity, regarding definitions, methodology, and general research frameworks. For instance, the term public is conceptually rather fuzzy, as it is unclear what exactly is meant by the public. Some authors focus on motorists, others on voters, consumers, citizens or inhabitants. Likewise, the notion of “acceptability/acceptance" may express - according to the particular study - various concepts such as support, agreement, feasibility, to vote for, favourable reaction, etc. Only a few authors have attempted a clear definition (Schade and Schlag, 2000). Generally, the construct can be conveniently described by questioning "acceptance of what, through whom and under which conditions and circumstances". The term "acceptability" describes the prospective judgement of measures to be introduced in the future. Thus the target groups will not have experienced any of these measures, making "acceptability" an attitude construct subject to strong situational and temporal factors. "Acceptance" involves respondents' attitudes including their behavioural reactions after the introduction of a measure.
Levels of Acceptability
Meanwhile, an extensive literature demonstrates the low public acceptability of urban road pricing schemes especially within the group of motorists (e.g. Jakobsson et al, 2000; Schade and Schlag, 2000, 2003; Jaensirisak, Wardman & May, 2005). For example, Figure 11‑2 illustrates the acceptability of various travel demand management measures among other different forms of road pricing, whereas road pricing is the least accepted measure. The results of the European research project TransPrice show that only up to 16% of the respondents agree with this form of travel demand management. Somewhat more optimistic Jaensirisak et al (2005) found in their review of a number of British acceptability studies a mean acceptability of 35%. However, they also found considerable variations in the levels of public acceptance of road pricing ranging from 8 % to 76%.
Figure 12‑2 Acceptability of Travel Demand Management Measures
Individual Characteristics and Acceptability Among factors determining the degree of acceptability, personal attitudes, expectations, perceptions and subjective evaluations about road user charging have been investigated. Among these, variables like negative outcome expectations, perceived unfairness (see Chapter 10 for further information on equity), negative social norms and perceived infringement on freedom have been identified as important determinants of acceptability (for a comprehensive overview see Schade and Schlag, 2003). According to economic theory, it is to be expected that high income groups should support road user charging more often because of their lower marginal utility of money, and their higher willingness to pay for saving travel time (Calfee and Winston, 1998; Rienstra, Rietvield and Verhoef, 1999). However, several studies show that there is no relationship between acceptability and level of income (e.g. Jaensirisak, 2002; Schade, 2005). Also other socio-economic factors have a smaller and more unsystematic impact on acceptability than do attitudinal factors (Jaensirisak et al, 2005). Schade (2005) found that especially the individual’s personal outcome expectation explains most of the variance of acceptability. The impact of personal outcome expectation is exerted mostly indirectly through other variables; i.e. those who perceive more disadvantages also view urban road user charging as less fair, less effective and less socially desirable. Those who expect advantages evaluate road user charging on all dimensions more positively. Further there are discrepancies between drivers and non drivers. Several studies have shown that acceptance of urban road user charging among car users is much less than among non-car users (Jaensirisak et al, 2005; Grisolía and Lopéz del Pino, 2008).
Scheme Characteristics and Acceptability
Furthermore, the system characteristics of road user charging schemes and their impact on acceptability have become a matter of research. One important factor is the level of charge. The level of charge should not be too small in order to be effective. But on the other hand high levels of charges may not be acceptable and therefore not implemented (Schuitema, 2003). Thus, the level of charge should be well balanced between an effective control of transport behaviour and the acceptability of the scheme (Vrtic et al, 2007). In almost all cases where a charge has received attention, no quantified relationship between acceptance and the charge has been developed. As an exception Jaensirisak et al (2005) systematically varied the level of charge and replicated the results by Cain and Jones (2002) and Harrington et al (2001) that public acceptability diminishes as the level of charge increases. In a similar vein experiences from the PRIMA case cities indicate that rather low starting levels are needed to achieve acceptance and that the charges can be increased successively to meet financial requirements (Hårsman, 2003).
Figure 12‑3 Possible developments of attitudes towards road pricing
Figure 12‑4 Negative attitudes before and after (one year of) opening of urban tolls in
Source: Odeck and Bråthen (2002).
Similar results have been observed in London (TfL, 2004). Before implementation of the charging scheme in late 2002 40 % rejected congestion charging (40 % support). After charging was implemented in 2003 just 25-30 % rejected congestion pricing (now 50-60 % support).
Also attitudes to the Stockholm trial have become more positive during the time of the trial. In autumn 2005 (before the trial), about 55% of all county citizens believed that it was a “rather/very bad decision” to conduct the congestion-tax trial. Since the congestion tax was introduced in January 2006, this percentage has continuously fallen. In April and May 2006, 53% believed that it was a “rather/very good decision” while 41% believed that it was a “rather/very bad decision” (Söderholm, 2006). Winslott Hiselius et al (2009) tried to ascertain this change in attitude and analysed the anticipated and perceived effects of the trial. The results indicate that improved understanding of the effects and the magnitude of concrete effects was not a main driving force behind the attitudinal change. Instead, it seems that the public attitude changed because personal experience gave a new understanding of the implications of the charges for personal well-being. This would imply that trials may be more useful tools than just information provision in the implementation process of ‘difficult’ policy measures like road user charging. Also initially a trial is only introduced for a particular time period. This means, proposed decisions were not definite and could potentially be reversed. Thus less resistance and rejection could be expected.
On the other hand Raux and Souche (2003) report a remarkable exception: A failure of a tolling scheme in France due to public resistance. The northern boulevard périphérique of Lyon has been a privately managed toll road infrastructure which opened in 1997. From the outset, it was vehemently rejected by motorists. There was a movement to boycott the new road accompanied by weekly demonstrations at the toll barriers. These prevented users from paying and occasionally even led to the destruction of the barriers. Finally, the local authority repurchased the road which is now managed by a public corporation. The toll was considerably reduced and limited to a main central tunnel.
More detailed experiences gleaned from countries that have implemented urban road user charging measures are discussed in Deliverable D3 of the CURACAO project.
One of the assumptions for the positive development of attitudes after the implementation of road user charging is that the benefits of such a scheme become apparent to the citizens and change their minds in a positive direction (Odeck and Bråthen, 1997, 2002). Schade and Baum (2007) have challenged this assumption. They investigated how car drivers will react to the (planned) introduction of urban road user charging. Will people respond with even stronger negative attitudes, rejection or reactance towards such proposals, or will they adapt to the new situation and develop more positive attitudes because they have to accept the inevitable? The results of the study revealed clearly that people with a strong conviction about a definite introduction of urban road user charging exhibit much more positive attitudes towards road user charging than people who are less certain about its imminent introduction (see Figure 12 5). Schade and Baum (2007) explain the results on the basis of the theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) which predicts that people increase the attractiveness of an unavoidable event in order to maintain a consistent cognitive belief system. They conclude that once an urban road user charging system is decided and the citizens can no longer avoid it, their attitudes towards road user charging become more positive. Thus, the positive effects of road user charging scheme benefits after implementation might be overestimated. Recent research from the Stockholm congestion charge provides empirical support for the hypothesis that attitudinal change after implementation could be partly due to adaptation to cognitive dissonance. Brundell-Freij and Jonsson (in prep.) show that attitudes to congestion charging in Stockholm became even more positive after the permanent introduction of the scheme in 2007 than they were during the trial in 2006. That was despite the fact that respondents were not becoming more convinced of charging having positive effects on traffic problems.
Source: Schade and Baum (2007)
The opinion of local politicians and their subsequent actions are of paramount importance for the successful implementation of urban road user charging schemes. This is one common experience of all cities implementing or attempting to implement urban road user charging. They directly or indirectly determine whether or not the pricing scheme will be introduced as well as the speed of the policy implementation process (Schade et al, 2004).
Politicians obviously can influence the implementation process in two different ways. First, they may consciously and actively prevent the implementation of the scheme. Second, they may avoid a clear commitment to the scheme, especially if they are not sure about the outcome of the political process. But a lack of strong political commitment acts as a benchmark for other stakeholders. Their attitudes may become more negative as well. This also contributes to a slower or even stopped introduction. Here a political champion or figurehead, who takes ownership of the road user charging concept, clearly facilitates the implementation process. In this process politicians have to consider the interests and opinions of different societal groups as well as politicians' own interests. However, the positive theory of regulation sees politicians as vote-maximising actors whose main interest is not in political programmes per se but rather in their re-election or nomination into lucrative positions after their term of service (Niskanen et al, 2003). A major disadvantage of pricing policies is that they are not directly attributed to the politicians’ actions. Therefore the politicians rather have a preference for direct interventions over anonymous pricing instruments. Another key concern of politicians is that transport related as well as environmental policies are less promising than alternative policy issues such as employment policies (Frey, 2003). Concerning political acceptability the AFFORD survey (Schade and Schlag, 2000) showed that politicians’ attitudes towards road pricing in the surveyed cities were more positive than expected. But even where there is strong enough political support to go ahead with charging plans, politicians can easily be disheartened if they find that public support is eroding in the run-up to the scheme introduction (PROGRESS, 2004).
The factors influencing political acceptability are somehow similar to those that have been found to be important for public acceptability. Examples are problem perception, fairness and revenue allocation. Thus results concerning the public may be to some extent transferable to political acceptability as well. Further research is needed to clarify the factors influencing political acceptability and the relations to public acceptability.
One way of divorcing the urban road user charging issue from elections is to hold a referendum. Consultation can provide a better understanding of transport problems, help generate innovative solutions and gives the public the opportunity to respond to the proposals of the supply-side via surveys, interviews, etc. However, it is not always clear how the decision-makers will take into account the views and opinions of the stakeholders. Moreover it should be noted, though, that a referendum just before the last steps of the scheme introduction is very likely to hit the lowest level of support, and therefore runs the greatest risk of failure. An alternative to an early referendum is the Stockholm approach: here the referendum was held around one year after a congestion charging scheme was implemented “on a trial basis”. Whilst this approach carries a large financial risk, it provides the best chances for the referendum to be won, since it has been shown that public support for a charging scheme increases again once it is up and running and people start to feel its benefits. In that respect the public opinion is the most important source of information for the politicians in the implementation process. Thus, presenting not only the benefits of the scheme to the politicians, but also evidence that the public agrees with the urban road user charging scheme may increase political acceptability considerably.
The business community is one stakeholder whose opinion particularly counts in the introduction process. This is due to the fact that they are important local taxpayers. In addition, politicians fear relocation of important business sectors away from the charging zones to avoid urban road user charging. The attitude of the business community toward the road user charging schemes can be described as ranging from sceptical to a negative attitude and opposition towards the scheme. This appraisal is not dependent on the progress of the implementation process (Schade et al, 2004).
Retailers that are located within the envisaged charging zone are generally among a scheme’s most vociferous opponents. They fear the competition from retailers located outside the zone, and a resulting reduction in their customer numbers and thus lower revenues. Especially small businesses express concerns that urban road user charging would threaten their livelihoods. Also in tourism losses are expected because tourists could be discouraged from visiting cities that have an urban road user charge (DfT, 2007). Since it is clearly the purpose of most of the current and currently envisaged schemes to deter car traffic from entering the charged area, this fear is understandable, and can only be allayed if retailers can be convinced that the public transport alternatives offered to their current customers are good enough to provide viable alternatives to the car. Another mitigating measure for the potential loss of customers would be to invest some of the charging income on promotional measures for the charged area. To allay fear of the retailers the British Retail Consortium published a leaflet for improving town centre accessibility (British Retail Consortium, 2008). This guide should support especially retailers located within the city centre to engage with their council to attract more people into the town centre by reducing congestion on the roads or by providing more buses for customers without access to a car. The consortium campaigns for a high-quality public transport, an efficient road network, an attractive urban environment and good facilities for deliveries. Finally the more attractive shopping environment will increase sales. Further, the fact that individuals stated they do not drive into the city centres or use buses because of congestion (DfT, 2007) should influence the retailers’ attitude towards urban road user charging positively. Further to the fears about loss of customers, there are also concerns that those customers that still come have less money in their pockets to spend. Ways to meet this fear would be a parking policy that would reduce parking charges during the main shopping hours, the creation of additional spaces (although this may turn out to be counterproductive for congestion reduction) or the use of some of the road user charging revenue to allow a reduction of public transport fares. The final concern for retailers is that they may have to increase the prices of their goods to accommodate additional costs for deliveries, and thereby become less competitive than their out-of-town rivals. However, especially where there is only a daily charge rather than a charge per trip and delivery vehicles that come into the charged area several times during the charging period, they have much more to gain from reduced congestion than to lose from the charge they pay once per day. Moreover, the low level of charges foreseen currently by European cities, will only add very marginally to the cost of any goods for sale (PROGRESS, 2004).
However, these expectations do not correspond with the experiences available in cities that have introduced successfully road user charging schemes. Actually, it is not possible to conclude that urban road user charging has an adverse impact on the retail sector. In fact, the evidence is rather mixed. On the one hand cities have not reported considerable business relocation (Seidel et al, 2004). On the other hand a 2003 survey by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that 76 per cent of traders reported reduced takings year-on-year (Quddus et al, 2007). Also Quddus et al (2007) revealed that the charge had a significant impact on sales at the John Lewis Oxford Street store (inside the charging zone) over the period studied. However, it is not possible to separate the impact of the charge from the impact of other exogenous factors affecting the retail sector at the given period of time (e.g. the closure of the Central Line and the Iraq War). Another research found out that the dominant financial and business services sector showed positive trends in aggregate employment and business activity in the years following the start of congestion charging in comparison to the years immediately before charging in 2003 (TfL, 2007). Similarly, the hotel and restaurants sector and the retail sector registered stronger business performance (for more information on the impacts of urban road user charging on business see Chapter 9).
Consequently, business acceptability of the implemented road user charging schemes may also increase after the introduction, as with public opinion. For example in Stockholm between 2005 and 2006 there was a change in attitude towards the Stockholm Trial as a whole. The proportion of companies that was negative fell from about 65% to 45%. The proportion that was positive rose from about 20% to approximately 35%. The attitude to a permanent congestion tax changed in the same direction. The proportion of companies that were negative to a permanent congestion tax fell from about 65% to 50%, and the proportion that were positive rose from about 20% to approximately 30% (Stockholmsförsöket, 2006a). That may imply that business representatives do not only judge a road user charging system on the basis of a pure rational cost-benefit analysis. Since the benefits of the road user charging system are often hypothetical and abstract prior to the introduction whereas the costs can be calculated in more detail, they may be weighted more than the benefits. The result would be a negative assessment of the road user charging scheme. A second possible explanation refers to the expectations of the business representatives. The perceived effectiveness is only one factor influencing the expectations. Other psychological variables may be relevant as well. Again there is more research needed to investigate the factors influencing business acceptability (Schade et al, 2004).
In a study Steg, Tillema, van Wee and Schuitema (2008) examined the perception and acceptability of transport pricing among different industrial firms and businesses in the service sector in the Netherlands. The results show that charges were evaluated as more acceptable if revenues were of direct benefit to firms; for instance if improvements in accessibility are expected. Broadly acceptability of road user charging was higher after people were more aware of the possible advantages of the charges (after considering the possible consequences of the charge for their firm more in detail).Charging is likely to be less acceptable if the firms fear increases in travel costs. Indeed, the charges were less acceptable the more firms expected increasing costs for transporting goods and products, and costs of business and commuter travel. Further hardly any differences in acceptability judgements were found between firms operating in different sectors (industry or services). Also firm size appeared not to be influential.
Experiences from the Congestion Charging scheme in London show that business support for congestion charging continues to be relatively mixed. Businesses were, on the whole, more supportive of the scheme than opposed to it (TfL, 2005). Research undertaken by Faber Maunsell (2003) found considerable evidence that many, if not most, businesses recognise the potential for both social and economic benefits from a reduction of congestion in central London. Many industries support the charge because its direct costs are offset by savings and benefits, such as faster delivery times. After the implementation in 2003 Cert Logistics, a distribution company in London that delivers to downtown restaurants and hotels, reports its delivery times have been cut by as much as 50%. Other industries find that their employees spend less time delayed in traffic (Litman, 2006). Figure 12 6 shows that the majority of businesses continue to support the scheme, provided that there is continued investment in public transport. When analysed by sector, the leisure, financial and retail sectors were the most supportive of the scheme, whilst the distribution and restaurant sectors were the least positive. The increased level of support from the retail sector in 2005, compared to the previous year, is the most positive trend of all the sectors (TfL, 2006).
Figure 12‑6 Level of business acceptability of the
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