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.