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