TSTC Asks the Obvious, Yet Elusive, Pricing Poll Question

While the results of the latest Quinnipiac congestion pricing poll were repeated with little analysis earlier this week, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted a significant, though not surprising, shortcoming.

The Quinnipiac poll failed to link congestion pricing to the mass transit improvements it would bring.
The pollsters asked this question: “The Bloomberg administration has
suggested using congestion pricing to reduce traffic in New York City
by charging a fee for vehicles that drive south of 86th Street in Manhattan. Do you support or oppose the Bloomberg administration’s congestion pricing plan?”

New Yorkers responded: 61% opposed to pricing and 33% in support.

Then the pollsters asked the question in a different way: “Would you
support congestion pricing if the money were used to prevent an
increase in mass transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls?”

Surprise, surprise! Support grows substantially if pricing prevents
a hike in mass transit fares, with 53% supportive and 41% opposed.

Of course people don’t want to pay more if they get nothing specific
in return.
The question mentions a reduction in traffic congestion but
this is much less compelling than lower transit fares or better transit
service. And though congestion pricing may help soften the transit fare
hike blow, no one believes that it is going to prevent a transit fare
hike entirely.

Why didn’t Quinnipiac ask this one?

“The federal government has agreed to allocate $354 million to NYC
for bus service improvements if we approve congestion pricing.
Congestion pricing revenue would also be dedicated to major transit
projects. In light of this, do you support congestion pricing as a way
to improve mass transit and speed commutes?”

TSTC also calls attention to another point overlooked in the media — a report from Environmental Defense that finds a majority of people who took the time to testify at recent hearings voiced support for congestion pricing.

“The public hearings show that New Yorkers do in fact support the concept of congestion pricing, although they may want to see the original proposal tweaked and they want to see the revenues spent on transit improvements,” said Neil Giacobbi, a consultant for Environmental Defense who attended five of the seven hearings. “Polls showing majority opposition to the original congestion pricing plan don’t take these facts into account.” 

So while virtually every major paper in the city has editorialized in favor of pricing, a negative poll, taken at face value, will always grab headlines.

All the more reason for city officials to get on-message. 

  • Hilary

    It would be hard to design an honest poll that tied CP with transit improvements because they are really impossible to predict and are very disparate across the region. Which projects? When? The same ones that were promised as part of some other bond act/mitigation plan/fare hike? CP should be sold on its own merits – its benefits as a tool to manage congestion in the CBD with some unknown revenue to be allocated for some transit improvements to be determined.

  • government official

    TSTC observes, “The Quinnipiac poll failed to link congestion pricing to the mass transit improvements it would bring.” So that makes the poll consistent with the Bloomberg administration’s ham-fisted advocacy of this initiative.

  • mike

    That would be a push poll. You can convince anyone anything in a push poll. Facism would be more popular- less crime, trains run.

  • I’ve commented before about this, but it bears repeating: the Q-poll is wrong to simply ask about a charge or tax without stating at least where the money will go.

    That’s like asking people in a vaccuum if they would prefer to have more money in their pocket without explaining that they might have to do something (like work) to get that money.

    The same holds true for taxes and spending. If you ask about taxes in isolation, you get a “no”. If you ask about increasing government services (police, fire, education, mass transit, etc) in isolation you usually get a “yes”.

    It’s by linking the two – would you pay X increase in taxes to pay for y service that you get good public policy surveys.

    Would you be willing to charge drivers entering Manhattan $8 from 6am-6pm weekdays for an upfront grant from the Federal Government of $300+ million for new buses along with an annual increase of mass transit funding of $250m-$500m for new capital projects and an estimated reduction in traffic of 6% and increased bus times of 20-30%?

    State the cost, the benefit and expected impact.

  • UpperEastSideSnob

    I would love congestion pricing!

    More room on the road for me and my fabulous Mercedes!!!!! I hope it eases congestion and makes parking easier!

    I love Manhattan!!

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I like congestion pricing too UESS but since it will cost me a couple grand a year I’m selling my Benz and buying a Toyota. It gets 10 miles more per gallon and cost 20,000 less. I’ll actually save per mile costs, and depreciation not to mention saving wasted hours behind the wheel. I’ll probably be up by about $8,000per year in the end.

  • glennQ

    Are you guys still fans of congestion pricing when it is planned for subways too?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I’ve commented before about this, but it bears repeating: the Q-poll is wrong to simply ask about a charge or tax without stating at least where the money will go.

    That’s like asking people in a vaccuum if they would prefer to have more money in their pocket without explaining that they might have to do something (like work) to get that money.

    Sort of, Glenn. The difference is that the benefit isn’t just the money. It’s the time savings – both within and going to and from the pricing zone – for the drivers that pay, and for bus riders. As I testified to the commision, it’s the benefits – air quality, noise, safety – to communities both within and on the way to the pricing zone, when their neighborhood streets are no longer overrun with Manhattan-bound commuters.

    As I said to you over seven months ago, these benefits would be worth it even if the money all got spent on hookers and blow. So here are my fantasy Quinnipiac poll questions:

    1. (for car and bus commuters) Would you support congestion pricing, even if the money were spent on hookers and blow for top MTA officials, if it meant that you would spend half as much time stuck in traffic as you do now?

    2. Would you support congestion pricing, even if the money were spent on hookers and blow for top MTA officials, if it meant that there were half as many cars traveling through your neighborhood streets at rush hour?

    Full disclosure: Lee Sander wished me a happy birthday last month. But even for that I don’t think he deserves taxpayer-provided hookers and blow. It’s just a hypothetical worst-case scenario.

  • Chris H

    Are you guys still fans of congestion pricing when it is planned for subways too?

    Sure, but it is not as effective or necessary. The negative externalities for subway crowding are nothing compared to the effects of cars on air quality, pedestrian safety and land-use patterns. Subway crowding also has a much smaller impact in terms of economic activity because, unlike automobile congestion, it does not result in lost productivity from the transport of goods and services.

    In fact, there is a pretty high tolerance for crowding in a rapid transit system before it results in delays and those delays are relatively small compared to motor vehicle delays. The most crowded line in the system, the Lexington Avenue Express, has dwell times of 50-60 seconds instead of the scheduled 30-45 seconds because of crowding at the worst times (probably the AM peak hour). Even if we take a look at the worst case scenario of 30 seconds of excessive dwell, that only adds up to 3 minutes for the 6 stations from 125th st to Brooklyn Bridge. A three minute delay would represent an additional 15.8% on the scheduled 19 minute trip. If you miss your train due to station crowding, it still does not add significant delay because of the 2.4 minute headway (so the total 5.4 minute delay would be 28.4%). Remember, this is the worst case, so actual delays are going to be less.
    (Sources:
    Second Avenue Subway FEIS Chapter 5, pg 5b-4
    4 Train Schedule

    Now lets compare that to roadway congestion delays during the peak period. According to Google Maps, that same trip takes 20 minutes by car without congestion and a 40 minute one with congestion, a 100% increase.

    Congestion pricing for subways would have a completely different effect in terms of externalities. Unlike road congestion, reducing delays will not as significantly lessen productivity losses due to delays. It would not decrease the vehicle miles traveled nor would it decrease the excess air pollution and fuel consumption caused by idling.

    Plus, road congestion pricing is specifically targeted to charge only at the worst congested areas. Existing congestion pricing on commuter rail also only targets peak-direction (i.e. crowded) trains. Congestion pricing for subways, on the other hand, could not distinguish between destinations without completely replacing most of the fare control infrastructure (a waste of money, IMHO). This would make it a relatively blunt tool for controlling congestion and in someways, could possibly reduce the efficiency of the system (reverse-commute trains might be underutilized because their users might change their schedule even if the low level of crowding did not warrant inducing schedule delay).

    I’m not saying that crowding is not a problem or that congestion pricing for subways is necessarily a bad idea, but its not the same as congestion road pricing.

  • Chris H

    GlennQ,
    Additionally, probably the main goal of C.P. for roads is to induce modal shifts to transit. What sort of modal shifts would you be trying to achieve on the subway?

    Buses? Could be worthwhile with BRT but the opportunity cost is huge for taking most buses if you already have easy access to the subway that most people would pay a much higher sum anyhow. Cars? Well that would be bad public policy, wouldn’t it?

    You’re trolling with apples to oranges comparisons here.

  • mork

    One of the proposed fare hike / structure changes was to charge a higher fare at peak times vs. off-peak. This could encourage some people to travel at off-peak times. I can’t recall anyone here at Streetsblog complaining about this idea.

    Any more strawmen out there?

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