New Quinnipiac Poll Measures Opinion on Congestion Pricing

Quinnipiac has a new survey out this morning showing that 90 percent of New Yorkers feel that traffic is a "serious problem" but a majority of voters, by a 56 to 37 percent margin, oppose Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to charge $8 to drive in to Manhattan south of 86th Street. The poll also shows a significant gap between Manhattan voters, who support the Mayor’s plan by a margin of 62 percent, and survey respondents in the other four boroughs. 

While the new survey will be viewed by some as a sign that the traffic relief plan is politically impossible, it is worth noting that compared to public opinion in London and Stockholm prior to the launch of those cities’ congestion pricing systems, opposition among New York City voters and criticism in the local press appears to be far less intense.

Before its implementation in Stockholm, Sweden, a survey showed that 80 percent of Stockholm residents were opposed to the idea of congestion pricing. After a seven month trial from January to July 2006, 53 percent of Stockholm residents voted to keep the city’s congestion charging system in place.

Likewise, prior to the start of London’s successful congestion pricing system, newspaper headlines screaming "Ken-gestion!" and
"Carmageddon!" The January 8, 2003 edition of the Guardian
predicted, "The scheme will be condemned as a failure within days,
perhaps hours, of it starting. The senior officials in Transport for
London will be named and shamed. Livingstone will be told he must
resign."  Yet, after three years of congestion pricing, Transport for London surveys showed that more than 70 per cent of Londoners said the system was effective and twice as many supported the charge as opposed it.

Here are the highlights from today’s poll:

New York City traffic is a "very serious" problem, 59 percent of city voters say, while 31 percent say traffic is "somewhat serious," according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

But voters, including mass transit users, oppose 56 – 37 percent a congestion pricing proposal where drivers would be charged $8 to drive a car into Manhattan below 86th Street, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

Manhattan voters support congestion pricing 62 – 29 percent. Voters in other boroughs are opposed to the proposal:

    * 67 – 26 percent in The Bronx;
    * 63 – 29 percent in Brooklyn;
    * 61 – 32 percent in Queens;
    * 69 – 26 percent in Staten Island.

By a 3 – 1 margin, 68 – 23 percent, New York City voters say they use mass transit, rather than a car, to travel into and out of Manhattan. Car drivers oppose congestion pricing 59 – 34 percent while mass transit users oppose it 53 – 40 percent.

 New York City voters split 45 – 46 percent on whether they agree with a principal assumption behind congestion pricing, that traffic costs them billions of wasted dollars every year. Manhattan voters agree with the premise while voters in the other boroughs disagree.

Voters agree, 59 – 36 percent, that congestion pricing would tax unfairly people who live outside Manhattan. Again, Manhattan voters are out of touch with voters in the other boroughs.

If there were congestion pricing, taxicabs should be exempt, voters say 56 – 39 percent. On other possible exemptions, New York City voters:

    * Oppose 59 – 36 percent exemptions for personal vehicles;
    * Oppose 70 – 26 percent exemptions for limousines;
    * Support 49 – 45 percent exemptions for delivery trucks.

From May 15 – 21, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,018 New York City registered voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

  • As a professional market researcher with some experience on polling questions and how they can influence people, let me put this in better perspective:

    1. Only 41% say they have read or heard “A lot” about congestion pricing. This suggests that many people can be educated about how this will benefit them.

    2. Anytime you ask about a negative like a new tax, you get a negative answer. When you explain how that tax money will be used or put the negative in light of the positive benefits the results can change dramatically. In an ideal world, congestion pricing wouldn’t be needed, but in the real world trade-offs need to be made. Quinipiac is a good polling organization, but they should have put this into the context that the collection money would pay for transit improvements.

    3. The fact that mass transit commuters are against congestion pricing at the same level as car commuters shows this lack of understanding. This is the low hanging fruit to generate support for congestion pricing: Outerborough mass transit commuters.

    4. Let’s look at the question that was posed to the respondents of this survey:

    Some have suggested using congestion pricing to help relieve traffic in Manhattan. Do you support or oppose charging vehicle owners a fee to drive into Manhattan below 86th street on weekdays from 6 AM to 6 PM?

    My mentor, Prof. Jon Krosnick would have a field day with this question.

    First the only proposed benefit in the question is relieving traffic congestion in Manhattan, not in the outerboroughs that feed all that traffic into Manhattan. This pretty much explains the geographic imbalance of support. Future polls on this should incorporate the proposed use of the money collected for bus and train service into Manhattan.

    Second, it does not accurately explain how the congestion charge would actually work. The highways would still be free. The tolls would be deductible from the charge. Both of these facts need to be included in future polls.

    5. There is lots of good news in here:
    – 59% of people think that traffic congestion is a major problem in the city and another 31% think it is somewhat serious.
    – 34% of drivers like the idea of congestion pricing even with the poll’s limitations that I have explained above.
    – 45% think that congestion pricing would be good for the economy

    Do not despair. Any good political pollster will see through these results. The Crain’s poll was a better phrased question that received 45% approval earlier this month.

    But the pressure is on the Bloomberg Administration to explain the outerborough benefits of the plan: More mass transit, Less traffic flowing through their congested areas, better travel times when you do need to drive, a more balanced allocation of cars across all of the east river crossings, etc

  • Ann

    Also, why poll only registered voters? A good chunk of New Yorkers (20-25%%) are not registered to vote. Isn’t this what sociologists call sample bias?

  • SPer

    This website could use a link that gives people details on how to support congestion pricing — who to write to, which local and state officials have come out one way or another (good to write letters of support to folks like John Liu, for example).

  • The site to visit is: http://www.campaignfornewyork.org/

    You can sign up for alerts, etc.

    The best officials to write to now are those that directly represent you – City Council and State Legislature. http://www.nypirg.org has a “who represents you” section where you can type in zip code for a list of all your elected reps.

  • All excellent points Glenn. In addition to communicating the benefits better, I think service enhancements are also going to be necessary.

    Some of the lines are wretchedly overcrowded, which makes for miserable commutes at times. While major capital improvements like SAS are vital, I think its also important to allocate some of the funds to whatever cheaper, “quick-fix” improvements can be implemented fast to ease some of the pain.

    In any event, I’m 100% in favor, and happy to spread the gospel far and wide. I’ve contacted Millman and DeBlasio already.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    As I mentioned earlier, I was called for this poll (that’s me in the 32% of Queens residents), so I can’t say, “Well, they didn’t ask me!” I was so busy trying to make sure I gave answers that accurately reflected my pro-congestion-pricing stance that I didn’t think about whether the questions were skewed one way or another.

    There are two good things I draw from the poll results: First, around thirty percent of Brooklyn and Queens residents and 26% of Bronx and Staten Island residents support congestion pricing. The opponents have a 2:1 majority in this poll, but they can’t say that this is purely a Manhattan vs. the other boroughs issue when over a quarter of non-Manhattan residents support it.

    The second is that less than half of the respondents reported having heard or read “a lot” about congestion pricing, and more than twenty percent of outer-borough respondents said they’d heard “Not much” or “not at all” about it. Outreach efforts by proponents could help change the minds of those people.

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