Can incentives get people out of their cars?

Item date: 
November 26, 2011
Item context: 

Mobility Pricing Stakeholder Forum speakers Michael Fenn and Jens Schade are quoted in this article. Transport Futures does not agree that "most of the discussions on stemming gridlock centre around punitive incentives: taxes, road tolls and other user fees." For almost 100 years, the transport policy discussion had entirely avoided these measures while actual dollars have been thrown at supplying infrastructure based on projected demand (e.g. extending, widening roads; providing/building transit) and, much more recently, TDM-lite services (e.g. car/van pooling, business audits, guaranteed ride home chits). None of these schemes have been able to "slow the creeping calamity on the GTA’s roads" so Transport Futures started discussing the "elephant in the road" in 2008 -- now a few others are jumping on the bandwagon. That being said, we do agree that transport providers must think like a retailor when it comes to serving their customers. And when customers have chosen their purchases, all retailors are waiting for payment at the cash register. (See presentations by Fenn and Schade by clicking here.)


... Most of the discussions on stemming gridlock centre around punitive incentives: taxes, road tolls and other user fees. But there is relatively little talk about incentives that would curb driver behaviour and in turn slow the creeping calamity on the GTA’s roads.

Michael Fenn advises those in charge of the transport sector to think like retailers. Market it like a product, sell convenience and availability, and create something the consumer wants to be a part of.

In essence, know thy customer, he told about 100 road pricing experts gathered at the Transport Futures "Mobility Pricing Stakeholder Forum" on Tuesday.

But he acknowledges that providing incentives to take transit or avoid driving in rush hour is a complicated business.

“Remember, sprawl is one person’s slice of the North American dream,” said Fenn. “If we have policies that ignore 3 million people in the region that have chosen the North American lifestyle, they’re not going to be well accepted.”

“We need to approach (transportation) as consumer products,” he said, adding that the industry also needs to recognize there’s more than one customer...

Road-pricing schemes will inevitably have to be foisted on a reluctant public, according to Jens Schade, a Dresden University of Technology researcher, who attended the same Toronto road pricing conference.

His study of the psychology behind driver behaviour shows that even if commuters stand to gain something by paying a tax or toll, they will always feel the loss more intensely.

That’s why people almost always prefer hidden taxes such as a gas tax.

But research shows that the acceptance of road pricing can be dramatically improved once drivers feel the benefit of improved transit or traffic flow.

In Stockholm, support for congestion charges increased to over 50 per cent from less than 30 per cent once the city implemented a six-month pilot. Once it became permanent, the congestion charge was supported by 70 per cent of the public.

“The benefits have to be experienced immediately,” said Schade, noting that it’s sometimes difficult to make those links with a less transparent cost such as a gas tax.

Schade also warned against relying too heavily on time savings to sell road pricing: “Efficiency, for the public, is nothing. It’s too abstract.”...