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5 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION STUDY MOTIVATION such quantitative data. However, qualitative data (such as focus groups) have been reviewed and cited when they are This study summarizes public opinion on tolling and road informative. National data are reviewed and presented, but pricing. Although often used interchangeably, tolling and road with the caveat that tolling and road pricing opinion is often pricing reflect different concepts. Both concepts relate to the best measured and analyzed in the context of a particular collection of direct charges for road use. "Tolling" is typically project or program. Whereas the focus is on U.S. experi- applied to finance transportation, whereas "pricing" is gener- ence, some international data are included when it is deemed ally used to achieve other broader policy functions. The United to be useful and instructive to U.S. practitioners. The syn- States has experienced both a historical tradition of tolling thesis examines how outcomes are affected by the situation and a growing interest in the economic arguments in support in which the poll or survey was conducted--timing, back- of road pricing to achieve policy objectives. ground, and other factors--and the methods used to conduct the survey or poll. Many states in the United States are experiencing short- falls in transportation funding, along with growing needs for surface transportation system improvements to manage con- Public Opinion, Public Acceptance, gestion. In addition, evaluations of tolling and road pricing and Policy Making projects implemented to date have indicated that travelers are "Today's public opinion, though it may appear light as air, willing to pay for new facilities and faster travel, and that may become tomorrow's legislation--for better or worse." Earl pricing can lead to more efficient use of existing highway Newsom, American Petroleum Institute Newsletter (1963) capacity (1). Still, many motorists and policy makers have expressed concerns about tolling and road pricing; not know- "Most people don't think about most issues most of the time," ing how it will affect them. Nelson Polsby and Aaron Wildavsky once wrote in a famous analysis of American public opinion (2). As noted by these Therefore, tolling and road pricing have risen to the top of sociologists, the public may have little daily contact with many the political agenda in many states, regions, cities, and coun- issues on the public agenda, yet their opinions greatly influence tries. Diverse attempts to introduce tolling and road pricing policy makers' priorities and behavior. One of the principles have been successfully implemented, whereas others have of a democratic society is that people's opinions must be failed politically. The viability of these efforts depends not reflected in the way that society is managed (3). Public opinion, only on public support but also on elected officials' percep- therefore, has formed a part of American politics ever since tions of that public support. In many parts of the United States, the authors of the Federalist Papers declared that "all gov- a gulf exists between elected officials' perceptions of what the ernment rests on opinion" (4). This idea was one of the pri- public believes about tolling and road pricing and what the mary factors that led to an industry with the sole purpose of public actually believes. Therefore, even within the context of gauging public opinion. legislative support, political acceptability remains a challenge. The rapid growth of opinion polling since the mid-1930s, This study focuses on public opinion and provides a sys- and the increasing use of polls and other measures of public tematic review of how the public feels about tolls and road opinion by politicians and policy makers in recent decades, pricing. What is overall public opinion concerning charging suggests that people believe that public opinion is, and should for the use of roads? Is there widespread support or focused be, an influencing factor in politics and policy making. An opposition? What factors are associated with its acceptance early pioneer in the science of public opinion measurement, or rejection? George Gallup suggested that, with measurement of public opinion, politicians "will be better able to represent . . . the Webster's dictionary defines public opinion as "a belief general public by avoiding the kind of distorted picture sent or sentiment shared by most people; the voice of the people." to them by telegram enthusiasts and overzealous pressure Polls and surveys are the most common ways to measure groups who claim to speak for all the people, but actually public opinion; therefore the synthesis focuses primarily on speak for themselves" (5).
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6 Thus, a primary reason for producing this synthesis is to do not, what criteria should be used to decide if it is accept- provide an empirical analysis of public opinion on charging able or not for the collective" (6). Should majority rule be for the use of roads to better inform public officials, policy applied? Should the most vocal be the arbiters of what is pub- makers, and others involved in the tolling and road pricing licly acceptable? What if only a minority finds the measure debate. The crux of analyzing or synthesizing public opinion acceptable, but by some objective criteria it is determined is the consideration of public rather than of opinion. Instead that more than half of those affected would be better off with of a well-defined, distinct public, many publics exist; the state the measure? Any and all of the aforementioned metrics have of public opinion depends on which particular public one is been applied at one time or another to advance or hinder the interested in. Constituents of the public include various issue progress of a road pricing concept or project. groups--special interest groups of citizens who care passion- ately about a particular issue. Abortion, crime, gun control, There is also a time-related aspect to acceptance. Changing protection of the environment, health care reform, campaign values, new knowledge, or a new "state of the world" may finance reform, and increasingly tolling and road pricing have make a formerly unacceptable policy acceptable and vice emerged as issues with their own advocates and detractors. versa. Public opinion, public acceptance, and policy making are mutually bound and interdependent. This study focuses Typically, interest group members hold very strong and on the public opinion side of the equation. The public opin- well-defined opinions on their own issue, whereas the gen- ion landscape of tolling and road pricing encompasses many eral public has, at best, a passing interest in political issues. complex issues--political leadership, economics, media cov- Although the role of public opinion in the policy-formulation erage, new knowledge, and new technologies--that tend to process may be limited, it is nonetheless true that political influence opinion formation, consistency, and maintenance. leaders serve at the pleasure of their constituents. From the As the next section indicates, this landscape is ever changing. president to city council members, elected officials are care- ful to cultivate a high degree of public approval for their own or their party's re-election; therefore, they must pay attention Changing Context of Tolls and Road Pricing to public opinion on policy issues. It is difficult to locate a person in the United States today Who controls the quality of the measures of public opin- who has not had to pay a toll to use a road or bridge. Toll ion that are communicated to public officials and policy roads or priced facilities are ubiquitous in the eastern United makers? The quality of scientific research is typically con- States and are becoming more widespread elsewhere in the trolled through the process of publication and replication. country. History indicates that during most of the nineteenth On the other hand, the way in which survey research or pub- century toll roads were commonplace in the United States. lic opinion polls are reported often miss the checks and bal- The first major toll road (a private road) was built in the late ances developed as part of the scientific process. Unlike 1790s (7). At the time, toll roads advanced social and eco- other scientific endeavors, public opinion polls can be (and nomic goals, primarily in terms of bringing goods from farm often are) conducted quickly with relatively little financial to market (8). However, competition for movement of goods investment. Studies are conducted and released essentially from other modes of transportation (e.g., canals and rail- without review or context. Media outlets often publish results roads) affected the demand for toll roads and by the turn of as received without scrutiny. Many of these "direct to the the twentieth century private toll roads had almost entirely media" polls are conducted conscientiously and meet exact- disappeared. ing standards of science. Others do not. The public, public officials, and policy makers have no way to consistently With mass production and growing use of the automobile, evaluate the survey research published about tolling and road faster and higher capacity roads were needed starting in the pricing. And yet, the power of surveys and polls to illuminate 1920s. Limited access highways appeared in the congested the attitudes and behaviors of citizens means that these results corridors of the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. Following are often used as the foundation for decision making and/or World War II, major toll roads and toll road systems were policy making. established in New York, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Most of the toll roads were oper- Although public opinion (correctly and incorrectly) has ated by state highway departments or by quasi-governmental been and continues to be linked to policy making, public authorities that issued toll revenue bonds to raise funds for acceptance is often cited as the key to program implementa- construction and/or operation. tion. Public acceptance generally refers to the seeking of col- lective consensus from the members of society about a certain An era of extensive super highways began in the 1950s issue, and it is premised on their support for the issue con- when the federal Interstate Highway Program was established. cerned. Thus, public acceptance must reflect the public opin- The federal government, for primarily military reasons, began ion and vice versa. However, public acceptance is not a clear- building tax-supported high-quality roads across the nation, cut concept. Harsman argues that "if some individuals in the giving little incentive for states to expand their turnpike sys- collective perceive a policy measure as acceptable but others tems (9). Highways were built on a pay-as-you go basis as