New Congestion Pricing Poll in Line With London & Stockholm

traffic_cop.jpgA new Quinnipiac Poll finds that New York City voters oppose the idea of congestion pricing by a margin of about two-to-one and the idea of East River Bridge tolls by more than four-to-one. The opposition exists despite the finding that only 24 percent of New York City voters surveyed "usually travel into and out of Manhattan by car."

The new poll appears to contradict a November survey by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign
that found 45 percent of New Yorkers would be receptive to the idea of congestion charging.

While some are likely to interpret the Quinnipiac Poll as a rebuke to citywide traffic relief efforts, the results are very much in line with the findings of surveys conducted in London and Stockholm prior to the launch of those cities’ successful and, ultimately, popular experiments
with congestion pricing.

Before its implementation in Stockholm, Sweden, a survey showed that 80 percent of Stockholm residents were opposed to the idea of congestion pricing. Yet, 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 now-popular congestion pricing system, opposition was intense. Samantha Bond, the actress who plays Miss Moneypenny in the most recent James Bond films led protests at the West End Theatre. London Mayor Ken Livingstone described it as a "massively hysterical reaction from opponents" as newspaper headlines screamed "Ken-gestion!" and "Carmageddon!" Hysterical or not, Prime Minister Tony Blair and virtually every other local and national politician distanced himself from the Mayor’s plan. 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."

Despite all of that, Livingstone went ahead and implemented the congestion pricing plan on February 17, 2003. On that day, the number of cars entering central London dropped by about 60,000. One automobile group estimated that the average driving speed in central London had doubled. Livingstone declared it, ”the best day we’ve had in traffic flow in living memory." Prior to the congestion charge about 250,000 motorists each day were trying to drive into Central London.

Right away, the reduction of traffic in London’s pricing zone was beyond the high end of the forecasts, with 16 percent less congestion and 38 percent fewer cars driving into the Center of London. London’s buses, as notoriously dysfunctional as New York City’s, were all of the sudden moving quickly, efficiently and according to schedule. Thanks to all of the reduction in traffic and the new funds poured into the city’s bus system, the average wait for a bus was cut to just one and a half minutes. Bus ridership quickly grew 14 percent during rush hours.

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.
Shortly after the program’s implementation, First London, a business association similar to the Partnership for New York
City, found that 49 percent of Central London businesses believed
congestion charging was working. Only 2 percent of companies say they
would consider relocating to a site outside the zone because of it.

More recently, Mayor Livingstone has approved a westward expansion of the congestion pricing zone and proposed a new Low Emission Zone and a $50 charge to SUV owners who wish to drive into Central London.

Photo: awizemann on Flickr

  • Mordecai

    Although I’m a fervent supporter of congestion pricing, it may be useful to consider The Economist’s perspective on the successes and failures of London transport policy (this is from their 11 Jan 2007 issue, the Bagehot column):

    “But as Mr Livingstone prepares to campaign for a third term next year, he may be losing his touch. This month 33% fare rises on London’s buses and tubes were announced by Transport for London (TFL), a body controlled by Mr Livingstone, making them the most expensive capital-city fares in the world. The money is to pay interest on the bonds sold by TFL to finance what some consider to be a reckless expansion of bus services.

    “Next month Mr Livingstone will more than double the congestion-charge zone by extending it westwards. He has pushed this through in the face of local opposition and the warnings of his advisers that the revenues raised by the extension will not cover the costs of running it. There is also confusion about what it’s for. Congestion is a problem on only 5% of the new zone’s roads. So cutting environmental pollution has become a major objective of the scheme, with charges based on engine size due to be introduced in 2009—which raises the question of why poorer, more polluted east London is not to be similarly blessed.

    “There is disillusion too about increasing journey times in the original zone even though the charge was raised to £8 ($15.50). The reason is that Mr Livingstone has grabbed road space for pedestrians by paving over Trafalgar Square, artificially restricting road widths and re-sequencing traffic lights across the capital. Even the mayor’s buses travel at little more than walking speed.”

  • P

    I think the level of popular support in the different cities has to be considered with regard to the structures of their respective governments. In other words, is it more or less likely that a Mayor in New York could enact an initiative with less than 50% support?

    Judging from the responses in these two other cities we may never get more than 50% support for congestion pricing until the scheme is enacted. Sadly, that doesn’t leave me very optimistic- especially considering that I thought a term-limited Bloomberg might be our best shot at implementing it.

  • Dave

    Rather than fight for congestion pricing the focus should be on permit parking (which I know London has and assume Stockholm has as well) which is harder to argue against.

    As a Manhattan resident and taxpayer I should have a greater right to park in Manhattan than those who live elsewhere. Charge me $250 a year (or pick any number) and let me have the free curbside spots. Those driving in could either park at a meter or in a garage.

    This additional cost would be a disincentive to driving into Manhattan. Furthermore, the number of tax and insurance cheats who live in Manhattan but register their cars (and likely themselves) would be denied a permit. Perhaps this might leader to higher tax revenues if people changed residency.

    For those in the outer boroughs who will complain we need simply point out that Manhattan residents already subsidize their subways and buses through the single fare policy of the MTA.

    Ideally this would be coupled with a change in the distribution of parking passes to the hordes of city workers. Even without that, however, let’s take this first step before introducing congestion pricing.

  • Since a tornado hit north-west london on Dec 6, 2006:
    I think that its probably a good thing that Livingstone is using the congestion charge to be more like a carbon emissions charge. If one wants to know what it looks like to have aggressive policies toward global warming and anti-polluters (ie., “reckless expansion of bus service” and “artificially restricting road widths”), just look at Livingstone.
    He better not screw it up though, and if the Economist is right that the congestion fees won’t even pay for the cost of running the program – then Livingstone has to cut out the fat!
    Its always useful to consider the Economist’s point of view, however I don’t think they are sufficiently concerned about the potential effects of climate change.

  • Our pollster thinks the main difference between the Quinnipiac poll and ours is that ours began the questions about congestion pricing with this preamble: “As you may have heard, a traffic-control program called ‘congestion pricing’ was started three years ago in the city of London, England. Drivers are charged a toll for entering the center or busiest part of the city. Since the toll started, traffic in teh center of London has been reduced and public bus speeds have improved.”

    The Quinnipiac poll introduced the issue this way: “How much have you read about congestion pricing, a plan adopted by some major cities to reduce traffic by charging a fee to drive into congested areas” and “Some have suggested using congestion pricing to help relieve traffic in Manhattan during rush hours. In general, do you support or oppose charging vehicle owners a fee to drive below 60th St. in Manhattan during rush hours.”

    Quinnipiac also screened its respondents to a sample of registered voters, while ours was NYC residents. Apparently the Quinnipiac pricing questions also followed a section of questions regarding the Bell shooting in Queens.

    Regardless of diverging poll results, the fact is that making people pay for something that is now free will never be a populist issue where public support will be louder than those who assume the mantle of opposition. It is something a strong leader will implement or not. Bloomberg obviously has the leadership style that could do it (and the political capital, as Quinnipiac points out) — the question is whether he is sufficiently interested to put a lot of weight behind it and develop a strategy that can offer enough benefits to the boroughs to blunt their resistance. In any case, the clock is going to run out on his term of office unless he gets going almost immediately.

  • JK

    The mayor’s state of the city speech and recent remarks suggests he is not going to pursue congestion pricing with the state legislature this session. Also, as observers have noted, his attack on pensions and teacher tenure, pay for principals combined with tax cuts could be costly with the Assembly. However, the mayor can still help move congestion pricing in the near term by initiating a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS.) It’s highly likely that pricing would face legal challenges and getting the EIS done now would save time later.

  • someguy

    Dave – the roads are publicly financed by ALL taxpayers. What makes the road in your neighborhood belong more to you than to someone from Queens or elsewhere? Furthermore, what makes the road belong more to you than to me, who doesn’t even own a car yet still helps finance those roads through sales and property taxes? I think it’s greedy of you to think that your choice of location to live somehow entitles you to a choice of where you get to park your private property on EVERYONE’s public property (the roads).

  • If the survey asked “do you support or oppose charging vehicle owners a fee to drive below 60th St. in Manhattan during rush hours” it may be misleading respondents. From everything I’ve heard, only local streets are currently being considered for inclusion in the cordon or CBD. This means that people would still drive free down the riverfront parkways. To reduce all traffic entering Manhattan will require tolling at all of the entry points. The best formula will use a combination of both tools.

  • JK

    “only local streets are currently being considered for inclusion in the cordon or CBD.” That’s interesting, if true. Since none of the City’s thinking on congestion pricing has been made public and there has been no formal or even preliminary proposal presented, that statement seems a bit premature. The conceptual studies done by the Partnership and others are a long way from a final plan.

  • Thanks to Orcutt for showing how narrowly and misleadingly Quinnipiac tailored its poll question. (“…help relieve traffic in Manhattan …”) When Brian Ketcham and I looked at East River tolls in 2003, we found that roughly 60% of the time savings would be in Queens and Bklyn and only 20% in Manhattan (the remaining 20% would be on the bridge spans). While CBD pricing presumably would have a bigger impact on Manhattan, I’d bet the “borough” savings would still be bigger.

    Our study, “The Hours,” is at

    Perhaps one of our advocates can get a dialogue going w/ Maurice Carroll at Quinnipiac over their framing.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    As usual I”m going to ask you to read something about political structure and substructure. The European cities in general, certainly London and Stockholm in particular, work within a parliamentary political system. That system rewards population density in many ways. Not remotely our segmented, frontier settling, Federalism. The suburbs run the state government and harvest their economies of proximity in their real estate values and property taxes. And, they fragment land use and transportation decision-making.

    Cities in Europe and other parliamentary democracies have their own political center of gravity and are therefor empowered in ways that American cities simply are castrated.

    Also, in NYC, to show you how far this is off of Bloomberg”s program, there are term limitations. He is not even running again and he cant get behind even one good policy that sails against the political wind. What does he do? Cut property taxes. In the height of a real estate boom, long term, he cuts real estate taxes. Fucking genius. How fast will prices go up now.

  • Of course there is no specific plan yet, but discussions about congestion pricing in NY seem to presume it would focus on the midtown section of the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD), which is generally defined as the area bounded by 59th Street to the north, 34th Street to the south, 8th Avenue to the west and 3rd Avenue to the east.

  • mfs

    hilary- I’m lost by that- most discussions about congestion pricing have talked about all of manhattan south of 60th street.

  • Clarence

    Samantha Bond led a protest against congestition pricing?! She was a great Moneypenny in the Bond films – but now my heart is saddened.

    No more 007 in 2007 for me. At least the ones she was in.

  • JK

    The advocates are doing a good job reading the congestion pricing tea leaves. They are smart to encourage the mayor to act on parking pricing— a congestion pricing realm he controls. The test is whether the mayor’s sustainability effort leads to significant parking changes:reduced govt permits, higher on-street prices and escalating rates to clear curb space; limits and borough/ CB based targets for off-street parking.

  • NB

    Dear StreetsBloggers,

    I’d just like to draw your attention to the congestion pricing discussion on the Daily News’ blog:

    And I quote:
    “I suspect that the majority of people who support congestion pricing are the elitist Manhattanites who get stuck in their cabs and black cars on the way home. Too bad, use the subway.”

    “If you’re worried about pollution then move out of NYC”

    I don’t live in Manhattan, I don’t make a lot of money, I took the subway to work today, and I support congestion pricing. Hm.

  • Steve

    While the Stockholm and London examples are instructive, it would have been better if the Quinnipiac Poll had confirmed the Tri-State Transportation Campaign results. No reason to lay down the congestion pricing banner, but time to think strategically–as JK suggests above–and focus a bit more on what may be the easiest of the three congestion pricing fronts on which to make headway: parking policy.

    There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the city, without any action by the state, could substantially reduce congestion through parking reform:

    1. Enforcing the parking laws against placard holders, and restricting the number of placards, is the number #1 item on the parking reform agenda, given the finding that such a significant portion of daily auto commuters into the Manhattan CBD are public employees. No matter how strong the opposition of public employees (and their unions) to such measures, I would expect very little sympathy from the public and the Mayor has the clout in this, his final term, to do it. Given the city’s fiscal surplus, there should be money available to pay some kind of one-time cash-out to public employees to make the reform more palatable.

    2. DOT continues to install muni-meters throughout the city, not just in business districts but also along the commercial strips in residential neighborhoods, including on 2d Ave in Murray Hill and 72nd Street on the UWS. Once the muni-meters are installed, it costs almost nothing to raise rates gradually/experimentally until they are at the level necessary to ensure reasonable turnover and end the current subsidy vis-à-vis private lots.

    3. In the midtown business district, DOT generally has converted all curbside parking to commercial-only at the same time it has installed muni-meters. There weren’t that many non-commercial spaces taken away in this process, but I don’t think there was much of an outcry. If the city converted the curbside parking on congested commercial corridors such 86th Street to commercial only, the commercial vehicles would have a place to park, the rest of the traffic (in particular, buses) would flow more smoothly, and I doubt there would be much of an outcry from non-commercial parkers.

    4. Ultimately, the side streets have to be brought into the reform process as well. This can be done through a residential permitting system, or expansion of muni-meters (on side streets, the duration of muni-meters parking can be adjusted to a four or even a six hour cycle). The bottom line is no one, not even a NYC resident, has an absolute right to a free parking space, but it makes even less sense to offer this rare commodity to casual visitors to the city.

    Eliminating free parking among placard holders, on commercial corridors and ultimately on side streets will reduce congestion by reducing the number of people circling for parking spaces–which presumably will be more plentiful once they are market priced–and by reducing the number of people who drive into Manhattan in the first place. Of all the congestion pricing measures, it is the most feasible, technologically and politically, because it merely involves systematic implementation of the kinds of changes that the city has already been making for a long period of time. Let’s do it!

  • Quoting the Economist is a bit misleading. About 15% of the their typically excellent reporting gets colored by a fairly narrow and uninteresting libertarian wacko streak that is dressed up in traditional liberal economics.

    They stumped against congestion pricing on the first go round, with a tone that implied that central London would be depopulated faster than if the Thames rose two feet.

    Yet this week, NY commercial rent numbers led to several stories pointing out the West End rents are four times more than midtown class A space.

    There isn’t a strict corollary there, beyond the fact that 19c. rules from various royals created a congestion pricing schema for development, and it appears to have to led to long term benefits to real estate, minimized damage to light and air (by restricting building) and created one of the most sought after business districts in the world.

    Without sounding too Malthusian — or Mosesian — it should be noted that some decisions cannot be fairly evaluated by polling self-interest. There is no rational argument against congestion pricing.

  • JK

    I’m probably outside what could be labeled the “reform consensus” on this, but I’m skeptical of residential parking permits in NYC for a number of reasons — some of which involve density, a historical culture of corruption and abuse of parking privileges and the tremendous demand for parking here. This said, I’ve seen them work first hand in Boston and Philadelphia and know there are good arguements in their favor.

    In championing residential permits, might we be exchanging an existing evil(govt permits) with a different problem? It seems questionable that anyone has more right to store property on public space than anyone else. More fair would be curbside parking priced the same for everyone. (A political non-starter to be sure.)

    Once residential permits are granted it will further validates the deeply held (by motorists) belief that residents have “ownership” of the public street space. It’s axiomatic in politics that getting rid of an entitlement is almost impossible. Wouldn’t residential permits just be a new form of entitlement?

    Lastly, the widespread abuse of govt placards here, suggests that, in the absence of an efficient and clean bureaucracy, resident permits (likely displayed as windshield stickers)would very likely be forged, or fraudulently procured.

    If permit parking zones are created, it’s imperative that at the onset some fair portion of the total spots are metered.


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