Roller Coaster Pricing Debate

Distinct from tolling a new highway expressly built as a toll road, our experience with road-user charging on roads that were previously unpriced shows a consistent pattern. Before deployment, approval is always under 50 per cent as was the case in London (2003) and Stockholm (2006). We can expect such programs to be voted down in referenda as happened in Edinburgh 2005, and as would happen in Toronto, if one were held today.

The Swedes rejected road-user charging by a modest margin prior to the start of the Stockholm trial. By the end of the six-month trial a second referendum squeaked out a 51% margin in favor. The latest poll pegs it at 67% in favor. Even I am surprised.

Once charging is implemented, acceptance rises to a level somewhat above 50 per cent. The shift in approval ranges from 10 per cent to 30 per cent once the benefits of uncongested roadways become apparent to a significant segment of the population. This is an important point missed by almost all of our politicians. The politicians that supported pricing in each of Stockholm’s and London’s schemes won their ensuing elections with greater majorities than before. Same pattern in Singapore.

Before, down. After, up. Why is that?

Over the past few weeks, there has been a surge of noisy press regarding the 1.8m signatures on an anti-pricing petition in the UK, chalking up a lot repetitive tabloid misfiring, misconstruction and misrepresentation. Note that this bump in negative London press – far shorter than the drawn out 18-month anti-Livingstone hysterio-agony in 2002-3 – coincides with the opening the western extension to the London Congestion Zone. This was predictable. Just like your nine-year whines much more about the dentist on the morning of her appointment, but far less in the afternoon when standing in front of the candy rack at the store.

The reasons we need strong leadership is similar to the reason nine-year olds need strong parents.

That the latest London furor ended so quickly was also predictable. No matter how much people don’t want pricing, the fact of its inevitability and workability is becoming clearer. This article well into the down-tick of the latest UK road-pricing noise-fest posits more sensible questions.

Of course, the attached letters are mixed, but then what percentage of nine-year olds walk into the dentist’s without breaking a sweat?

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