Lessons learned from analysis of tolling agency public opinion data
A survey was conducted with agencies responsible for or engaged in tolling and road pricing to both identify data sources and gather their perspectives on relevant issues. Of the 42 agencies in the sample, interviews were completed with 17, with 11 completing questionnaires and providing polling data for analysis.
The eight synthesis themes can be considered lessons learned for public officials, experts, and advocates in garnering support for or raising opposition to tolling and road pricing initiatives.
- The public wants to see the value. When a concrete benefit is linked to the idea of tolling or charging for road usage (e.g., reducing congestion on a specific highly congested facility) as opposed to tolling in the abstract, public support is higher. It is important to articulate benefits as they pertain to individuals, to communities, and to society as a whole.
- The public wants to react to tangible and specific examples. When public opinion is measured in the context of a specific project as opposed to a general principle, the level of support is higher. In the former context, road pricing is perceived of as a "choice" rather than as punishment.
- The public cares about the use of revenues. Use of tolling revenues is a key determinant to the acceptance or rejection of tolling and road pricing. Revenues should be linked to specific uses not to specific agencies. Support tends to be higher when revenues are used for highway infrastructure, public transit improvements, or more rapidly completing necessary construction.
- The public learns from experience. Support from a majority of citizens often cannot be expected from the outset. When the opportunity to use a tolled facility already exists, public support is higher than when it is simply a possibility for the future.
- The public uses knowledge and available information. When opinion is informed by objective explanation of the conditions and mechanics of tolling and its pros and cons, public support is higher than when there is no context for how tolling works.
- The public believes in equity but wants fairness. Public opposition of tolling is higher where there is perceived unfairness. This aspect relates to why having an alternative cost-free route is so important or why support is generally higher for tolling new facilities than for tolling existing facilities. The public needs to be reassured that the government is not treating them unfairly. In terms of equity, there is general agreement that decisions to use or not use a priced facility revolve around people’s needs and preferences.
- The public wants simplicity. When the mechanics of tolling or other user fee programs are simple and clear and therefore easy to understand, public support is higher than in situations where there is a high level of complexity in how pricing should be applied. Opposition is generally lower for the simplest proposals and increases as proposals become more complex.
- The public favors tolls over taxes. Although there are isolated instances of groups preferring tax increases over tolling, most individuals prefer tolling over taxes. With toll revenues, the public is more assured of getting their fair share, because revenues are generated and applied locally. Also, tolling represents freedom of choice; only users pay.