Last month, with little or no fanfare, the UK Department for Transport published the latest figures showing how public attitudes are changing to congestion and road pricing.
Public attitudes towards congestion and road pricing were collected in the October and November 2007 National Statistics Omnibus Surveys. The same questions were first asked in November 2005 and then again in October and November 2006 and January 2007.
The key findings are that experiences of and attitudes towards congestion have remained mostly stable between the 2005, 2006/07 and 2007 surveys. There have however been some small changes in the perception of how congestion levels have changed in recent years and are likely to change in the future.
In all three surveys, around a quarter of adults said that they experienced congestion on their most frequent journey most or all of the time (25% in 2005, 24% in 2006/07 and 26% in 2007). Similarly, across all three surveys, 23% of adults said that congestion was a problem most or all of the time on their general road journeys (other than their most frequent journey).
In 2007 the large majority of adults (87%) believed congestion to be a very serious or serious problem in the UK, a similar result to both 2006/07 (85%) and 2005 (87%).
The study also found that drivers were more likely than non-drivers to be concerned about the level of congestion that affects both them personally and the country as a whole. In 2007, 28% of drivers experienced congestion on their most frequent journey all or most of the time compared with 22% of non-drivers. Around 90% of UK drivers consider congestion to be serious or very serious, compared with 81% of non-drivers.
A total of 39% of adults in the most recent survey said they thought that there is a lot more congestion now than there was two years ago. This is a fall from 43% in 2006/07 when the question was first asked. In both surveys, only 1% of respondents said that they thought there was less congestion than two years before.
Similarly, 38% of adults believed that there will be a lot more congestion in two years time. This is a fall from 41% in the 2006/07 survey.
Around three-quarters (77%) of adults believed it to be very or quite important for the government to tackle congestion. This percentage has remained stable over the three surveys. UK drivers are no more likely to believe that congestion is an important issue for the government to tackle than non-drivers.
Attitudes towards road pricing have remained mostly stable between the 2005, 2006/07 and 2007 surveys. There have however been some small changes in respondent’s agreement to certain aspects of road pricing. In 2007 53% of adults agreed that ‘the current system of paying for road use should be changed so that the amount people pay relates more closely to how often, when and where they use the roads’; 31% disagreed, an increase from 26% in 2005 and 29% in 2006/07. The level of agreement was the same for both drivers and non- drivers. However drivers were more likely to disagree (35% compared with 25% of non-drivers) and non-drivers were more likely to have no opinion.
A total of 25% of adults agreed that ‘People who drive on busy roads should pay more to use the roads than people who drive on quiet roads’, while 58% disagreed. Some 23% of adults agreed that ‘People who drive at the busiest time should pay more to use the roads than people who drive at quiet times’; 60% disagreed.
Interestingly 69% of adults agreed that ‘People who drive cars that do less damage to the environment (e.g., hydrogen/battery/fuel cell/electric cars) should pay less tax than other drivers’; 19% disagreed. This has changed from 2005 when 63% agreed and 22% disagreed.
When asked how money raised through road pricing should be spent, 48% of adults thought it should be spent only on roads and transport and 20% thought it should be spent on a range of public services. These are similar to the 2006 results (49% and 22%).
Concerns about road pricing
Key concerns about road pricing relate to the perceived unfairness and concerns about the administration of such a system.
In the 2007 survey, 29% of adults said that road pricing would be a fair way of charging for road use. This is less than the 32% reported in the previous two surveys. However, the percentage of adults who said they would need to know more about it before they could decide increased from 9% in the previous two surveys to 13% in 2007.
In the latest survey 52% of adults believe that road pricing would be unfair. Drivers were far more likely to consider a road pricing system unfair (58%) compared with non-drivers (39%).
The main reason given as to why road pricing would be considered unfair was that people will not be able to change their travel behavior. A total of 39% of adults agreed that an itemized bill would reassure them of the accuracy of a road pricing system, while 37% disagreed.
Views on the holding of data appear to be reasonably balanced and have changed little over the three surveys. In 2007, 45% of adults agreed with the holding of data ‘as long as there were laws preventing the data being used for any other purpose or disclosed to anyone else’; 39% disagreed.
Effectiveness of road pricing
In 2007, 30% of adults believed that road pricing would be effective in reducing congestion and 52% thought it would be ineffective. In 2006/07 these percentages were 33% and 49% respectively. Key reasons given for the perceived ineffectiveness were the inability and unwillingness of people to change their behavior.
Asked how road pricing would affect them personally, 13% of drivers said that they would change their travel behavior in some way. A total of 30% of drivers believed that road pricing would end up costing them more. A total of 11% believed it would benefit them financially, while 26% of adults said that road pricing would not apply to them personally, including 7% of drivers.
In response to the issue of road pricing. I feel it is yet another issue of the UK government raising money by the use of so-called steal taxes. The way fuel and vehicle tax is at the moment, we already have in place a system of road pricing: i.e. if you own a large gas guzzling car you pay more for the fuel and tax. If you do a large number of miles in this vehicle you also pay more for the fuel.
I do agree that something has to be done with regards the issue of congestion, but surely more investment should be made in public transport first - and the state of the UK’s road network is unsatisfactory to say the least.
Simon Dell, Carillion