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Overcoming Public Aversion to Congestion Pricing

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  • Harrington, Winston
  • Krupnick, Alan J.
  • Alberini, Anna

Abstract

Transportation authorities have consistently failed to employ economic incentives on major roadways--i.e. time-of-day pricing or "congestion fees"--to internalize the costs of congestion. In principle at least, such tolls can easily be shown to increase social welfare by making motorists pay something closer to the full social costs of their driving decisions. In addition, recent advances in electronics make it possible to implement such fees fairly cheaply and non-intrusively. While these same authorities generally understand and acknowledge the case for using congestion fees, they also claim that their use is politically infeasible because too many motorists would suffer large increases in commuting costs. This is the puzzle: If congestion tolls truly do advance social welfare, why is it so difficult to find a way to implement them? Two common explanations for this difficulty are the following: (i) The public perceives, or politicians fear that they would perceive, such fees simply as tax increases. If so, they might be responsive to an explicit promise to return the money in some way. (ii) Motorists dislike congestion fees because they find them coercive, in that they often have few if any practical alternatives to paying the fee. If so, then a policy option that offers motorists a choice of toll lanes and the more customary free lanes may be more attractive than a policy that policy of tolls on all lanes. We have completed a survey of Southern California residents designed to test these hypotheses. Unlike most opinion surveys on congestion pricing, our survey was quite explicit about the fate of the collected revenues. For example, we presented respondents with policies that returned a substantial portion of the revenues to the public, either in the form of cash (through reductions in sales taxes and vehicle registration fees or through income tax credits) or in the form of coupons to be used for vehicle emissions equipment repair, transit, and the like. In the past, most surveys have not been explicit about the revenues, or they have stated that revenue use was to be for improved highways, transit, or other public purposes. We find that a promise to offset the imposition of congestion fees by other taxes can result in a 7 percentage point increase in support for congestion pricing policies, and the restriction of congestion pricing to a single lane on a freeway attracts from 9 to 17 percentage points of additional support.

Suggested Citation

  • Harrington, Winston & Krupnick, Alan J. & Alberini, Anna, 1998. "Overcoming Public Aversion to Congestion Pricing," Discussion Papers 10730, Resources for the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:rffdps:10730
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.10730
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Björn Hårsman & John M. Quigley, 2010. "Political and public acceptability of congestion pricing: Ideology and self-interest," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 29(4), pages 854-874.
    2. Shoup, Donald C., 2004. "The Ideal Source of Local Public Revenue," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt3x03s541, University of California Transportation Center.
    3. Ian W. H. Parry & Antonio Bento, 2001. "Revenue Recycling and the Welfare Effects of Road Pricing," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 103(4), pages 645-671, December.
    4. Shoup, Donald C., 2004. "The ideal source of local public revenue," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(6), pages 753-784, November.
    5. Ryley, Tim & Gjersoe, Nathalia, 2006. "Newspaper response to the Edinburgh congestion charging proposals," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 66-73, January.
    6. Parry, I. W. H., 2002. "Comparing the efficiency of alternative policies for reducing traffic congestion," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(3), pages 333-362, September.

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