Project details

Full project title: Attitudes to road pricing - Assessing the evidence base

Sponsor: Department for Transport

Project Manager: Professor Glenn Lyons

Project team: Dr Geoff Dudley, Professor Graham Parkhurst and Lizzie Slater

Start date: March 2004

Finish date: May 2004

Project briefing sheet: Download the briefing sheet document (PDF)

Project summary

In March 2004 the Department for Transport (DfT) commissioned an evidence-base review of attitudes to road pricing. The review was required to cover attitudes of both the public and business, and include attitudinal research undertaken in other countries. It was intended that the study would summarise current evidence and understanding and in turn point to gaps in the evidence-base with recommendations for possible future research.

The review was commissioned to inform discussions of the Government's Road Pricing Feasibility Study (RPFS) that was announced in July 2003. The RPFS was established to advise the Secretary of State on practical options for the design and implementation of a new system for charging for road use in the UK.

Research literature and information were collected through two main lines of enquiry. First, a thorough search of academic and web-based literature was conducted, including the use of internet search engines, the 'Transport' bibliographic database and the CORDIS website. Second, direct contact was made with a number of electronic (international) networks of transport professionals, including the Universities Transport Study Group (UTSG) and the International Association of Travel Behaviour Research (IATBR), with specific requests for assistance in identifying further bibliographic listings and potentially relevant literature. Reference was made to recent conference proceedings (not yet in the formal literature), including the Transport for London/OECD event held in January 2004.

Consequently, the review has covered around 200 reports, papers and other articles addressing research in the UK and Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. These are now catalogued and summarised as the Attitudes to Road Pricing Research Compendium. This report draws on the material within the Compendium to discuss a broad range of topics that impinge on the issue of attitudes to road pricing. The report identifies nine key topic areas covering:

  • the importance of trade-offs
  • informed attitudes
  • determinants of attitudes
  • disaggregating the public
  • attitude shapers
  • technologies
  • equity
  • business attitudes
  • success and failure in the introduction of road pricing.

For each of these areas the report assesses the coverage, findings and limitations of research to date. In some areas a paucity of research is highlighted. In the light of the review findings and an assimilation of key issues, research recommendations are put forward for each area. An indication of priority for proposed research is also provided. A number of the recommendations are considered of particularly high priority.

First, perhaps the most persistent finding across a range of national cultures is that the acceptability of road pricing improves significantly when the revenues are hypothecated to the development of transport generally. However, a fundamental issue is how much drivers might be prepared to pay in order to raise sufficient revenues to bring about significant improvements in the transport system. In turn, this raises the question of the key trade-off in pricing schemes generally between effectiveness and acceptability. There appear to be significant gaps in understanding here, particularly in the context of the potential viability of inter-urban and national schemes.

Second, much more needs to be understood about the determinants of public attitudes to road pricing. In one dimension, this includes the motivations of people to acquire knowledge about road pricing in terms of timing and circumstance. It also includes how the media and public information campaigns may shape public opinion. However, on another level it means identifying the key types of social norms that may determine public attitudes. In turn, this can enhance the potential for the design and presentation of possible road pricing schemes which maximise the number of 'winners'.

Third, several surveys in different countries and continents emphasise that considerations of equity are major determinants of attitudes to road pricing. Nevertheless, the concept does not appear to be widely researched, or to exist generally as an integral component of proposed and implemented schemes. Thus a greater understanding is needed of the different perceptions of fairness amongst the range of stakeholders, and how these may be incorporated into scheme design.

Fourth, surveys of business attitudes to road pricing represent a distinct minority compared with those for public attitudes as a whole. In particular, more representative surveys of business attitudes are required which compare organisational effects by economic sector, size and location. In addition, longitudinal studies can discover how business knowledge and attitudes may shift over time.

Fifth, although road pricing remains a relatively uncommon phenomenon world wide, and there will always be a site-specific element to any scheme, there is a wide range of schemes in action which now allow analyses to be made of factors facilitating their successful implementation. Nevertheless, there are few studies which specifically compare implemented (or failed and aborted) schemes. By such means, it could be possible to construct a type of 'best practice' guide to policy making and implementation.

In total, the report highlights over 30 key issues across the nine topic areas.