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Do You Know Public Attitudes Toward Congestion Charging? Results of Beijing Congestion Charging Public Opinion Surveys

In recent years, thanks to the rapid social and economic development and rising living standards in Beijing, the total number of vehicles and travel demand has surged, leading to increasingly serious congestion. In Beijing, drivers spent an average of 2 hours and 40 minutes on heavily and moderately congested roads per weekday, and commuters lost an average of 1,075 yuan in time-cost per month due to traffic congestion, accounting for 12.7% of their average monthly wage, in 2017. The urban diseases and environmental problems caused by congestion have also brought negative impacts on people's daily life, health and safety. The transport sector is a major source of pollutant emissions in Beijing, and in 2017, mobile sources contributed as high as 45% of PM 2.5 emissions.

International experience shows that economic measures are effective in mitigating congestion, because it can guide citizens' driving behaviors, adjust travel demands and mitigate congestion without increasing infrastructure supply. In December 2010, Beijing announced 28 measures to tackle congestion, proposing to "study and formulate a congestion charging scheme for key congested road sections and areas and implement it at a proper time”. In 2013, Beijing municipal government issued the Breakdown of Key Tasks under the Clean Air Action Plan 2013-2017, which explicitly stipulates that the city will "plan a low-emission zone and study and design a congestion charging policy", thus putting congestion charging on the government’s agenda. However, as a public policy that has a direct impact on citizens’ daily life, the successful implementation of the congestion charging policy hinges on the level of public support. In order to understand the citizens' attitudes and opinions on congestion charging policy in Beijing, Beijing Jiaotong University conducted a three-year public opinion survey starting from 2016, with the support of WRI, which covers all areas within the sixth ring road in Beijing and the cumulative number of people surveyed reached 39,848. It has collected 26,181 valid questionnaires. See the annex for basic information of the respondents. 

The survey results show that in the past two years, the share of respondents against the policy has stabilized at about 30%, down by 15% from the first year. Respondents not against the policy were swaying between being supportive and neutral. The proportion of respondents against the policy in Beijing is lower than that in other cities with a successful congestion charging policy in place, including London (55%) and Milan (48%).

Figure: Public Acceptance of the Congestion Charging Policy in Beijing (in 2016-2018)

Who likely support or oppose the policy?

This three-year large-scale public opinion survey finds that female, young people, people without cars, people working or living between the second and third ring roads in Beijing, and those who travel short distance to work, show higher level of support for the policy than male, elder people, vehicle owners, people working or living outside the fifth ring road, and long-distance commuters with high travel costs.

Supporters widely believe that as an economic leverage, congestion charging can guide people to reduce car use intensity, effectively mitigate congestion and improve air quality. Meanwhile, congestion fees collected can be used to improve public transit system and road traffic infrastructure. On the contrary, the opponents argue that congestion charging will increase burden on private car owners. They hold that tackling congestion should start with urban planning and transport management, instead of simply resorting to pricing measures.

Figure: Who Likely Support the Policy

Figure: Who Likely Oppose the Policy

Willingness of Citizens to Pay for Congestion Mitigation

If for car-driving respondents, it normally takes 30 minutes and 45 minutes from home to workplace in smooth traffic and congestion respectively, they would be willing to pay an average of 14.12 yuan to save the 15 minutes lost in congestion. 47.1% of respondents would be willing to pay as much as 25 yuan, and only 15% of these respondents do not support congestion charging policy. Another 25.9% of respondents are not willing to pay any fees, and only 8.3% of those support the policy.

How effective is the policy in mitigating congestion?

If the policy is implemented, over half of the respondents said they would drive less and shift to public transport to workplace instead. And 40% of respondents are willing to drive less and use more public transport in daily life.

Therefore, the implementation of the congestion charging policy can effectively cut the use of private cars. However, this policy should be an important part in the comprehensive congestion-mitigation measures, instead of being the single choice. When London first introduced the congestion charging scheme, it also adopted a series of complementary transport measures, including improving public transport services, providing alternative detouring options, optimizing signal timing and setting parking control areas, to provide more travel options to guarantee citizens' travel rights. For improving public transport service alone, London implemented 33 policies.

Preferred usage of congestion charging revenue

Trust level is a crucial factor affecting public acceptance of the congestion charging policy. And citizens' trust level depends on whether the government agencies can use congestion fees in an open, transparent and just manner. Take Stockholm as an example. The Swedish Ministry of Finance will indicate on citizens’ tax bills where the congestion fees go every year. Our large-scale public opinion surveys also find that almost half of the respondents expect the congestion fees to be used to improve public transport infrastructure or to subsidize public transport. Another 20% of respondents hope the congestion fees to be used to improve bicycling and walking infrastructure.

Public communication holds the key

The surveys show that the more the respondents know about the policy, the more supportive they are. Over 40% of the respondents that know the policy well support the policy implementation, while fewer than 20% of respondents that know little about the policy are supportive. Besides, respondents also pay great attention to the policy effects. The congestion mitigation effects of the policy would notably affect their support level. Over 70% of the respondents thinking the policy as effective in reducing congestion show support, far higher than the proportion of the respondents believing the policy as ineffective.  

Moreover, effective public communication of the congestion charging policy is especially important. Effective communication can allow citizens to fully understand the purpose, detailed contents, implementation process and congestion-mitigating effects of the policy, as well as alternative travel options. It will enhance citizens' understanding of and adaptability to the policy. Only when citizens can understand the details of the policy, can they make a rational judgement.

Annex: Basic Information of Respondents in the Beijing Congestion Charging Public Opinion Surveys (2016-2018)

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