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Majority support for low cost road charging

Over 50% of people in Leeds would be in favour of road charging, if the cost was kept under £3 a day and if the scheme brought substantial environmental improvements, a study at the Institute for Transport Studies has shown. A similar proportion of Londoners would support the Mayor’s scheme for a £5 charge in central London.

Professor Tony May, Dr Mark Wardman and Dr Sittha Jaensirisak surveyed car users and non-car users in Leeds and London, to gauge public response to the implementation of city centre road user charges.
“Levels of acceptability vary greatly depending on charging levels, where charges are applied and whether substantial environmental improvements can be demonstrated,” said Professor May. “With a fixed charge per day within the inner ring road, and proven environmental benefits, a scheme in Leeds would be supported by 60% of the public.

The researchers studied responses from over 800 questionnaires. Three-quarters of respondents from Leeds perceived congestion and pollution problems as serious or very serious, compared with over 90% from London, but only a third of car users from Leeds saw charging as an effective solution to such problems compared with 50% in the capital. A majority of non-car users felt charging would be effective, but there were concerns about the provision of alternative forms of transport, and scepticism as to the motivation behind charging schemes.

“Any scheme has to be acceptable to the majority of the public,” said Dr Jaensirisak. “Schemes are judged on their potential benefits, not just to individuals but to society as a whole. However, it is much easier to achieve effectiveness than acceptability.”

“Even with a charge at just £1 a day, over 20% of car commuters in Leeds would change to uncharged periods or other forms of transport. And if some of the revenue from charging schemes went towards improving the environment, then acceptability would be increased.”

In London, charging is more acceptable, as higher proportions of the population are non-car users who see congestion and pollution as very serious and consider charging as a potential solution.

"It is possible to design a scheme which can be both effective, and acceptable to the majority of the public, if charges are kept simple and at a reasonable level, and if sufficient benefits are also offered,” said Dr Wardman. “People need to feel involved, as part of the problem and the solution. They need to understand why they should support charging schemes and reduce their car use.”

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