New Yorkers Opposed To Congestion Pricing, 2-1

While most New Yorkers deem traffic congestion a serious problem, even more oppose congestion pricing in Manhattan as a strategy to lessen it, according to the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute survey released January 18.

By any standard, New Yorkers are not enthused with congestion pricing - and the opposition is not just in the outer borought. Even in Manhattan, only 48% of respondents supported the strategy.

"By a 62 - 31 percent margin, New York City voters oppose congestion pricing, where vehicles are charged a fee to drive into Manhattan below 60th Street during rush hour, according to a Quinnipiac University poll."

Clearly the respondents were not thinking of their own travel behavior.

"Only 24 percent of those polled said they usually drive into Manhattan; 67 percent said they use mass transit."

While voters didn't buy the argument that congestion pricing would help the economy because it would reduce traffic congestion, they were split as to whether it would hurt businesses due to loss of business from motorists forgoing trips.

"Voters disagree 49 - 42 percent with the argument that congestion pricing would help the city's economy because traffic wastes billions of dollars a year in wasted time. They split 47 - 47 percent on the argument that congestion pricing is bad for the economy because fewer people will visit Manhattan restaurants and other businesses."

"Proponents are going to have a hard sell on congestion pricing. But if Mayor Bloomberg weighs in with his 75 - 16 percent approval rating, he does have political capital to spend on tough causes," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute."

One of the few positive results of the survey was that "voters agree by a narrow 48 - 45 percent margin that congestion pricing would improve mass transit because increased demand would lead to increased service."

"On the topic of whether the city's free East River crossings should be tolled, New Yorkers overwhelming said they were against it, with 78 percent saying no and 17 percent saying yes.

"New Yorkers see the free bridges as city streets and don't want to place a price tag on the right to drive," Carroll said of the poll with a 3.1 percentage margin of error."




Like Early Polls On Congestion Pricing In Stockholm and London


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.

posted in Streetsblog by Aaron Naparstek

Charles Siegel

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