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48 CHAPTER FIVE CONCLUSIONS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH Given the widespread concerns about congestion and the need Specific research efforts are needed to focus on shifts in for infrastructure expansion, an increase in local and regional public opinion over time, particularly in the context of regional proposals to price transportation capacity to both generate rev- or local initiatives--from the idea stages to implementation enue and manage transportation demand is inevitable. Under- and ultimately usage by the public. It is important to track standing public opinion on tolling and road pricing in this both support and opposition across any variations in project context is of enormous importance to transportation policy. type and to document how public opinion can shift as con- Some proposals will be virtually meaningless without refer- ditions become more severe or new initiatives reach the pub- ence to public opinion. It is therefore not surprising that policy lic sphere. Before-and-after surveys were implemented in makers and practitioners have come to increasingly focus on high-occupancy toll lane evaluations in San Diego (I-15) and public opinion regarding charging for the use of roads. This Minneapolis (I-394). These designs, referred to as panel or topic often dominates the local media and regularly influences longitudinal designs in the survey literature, provide direct political campaigns from the mayor's to the governor's office, information on how the attitudes, opinions, or behavior of indi- and throughout the legislative branch. vidual households or individuals change over time in response to other factors. Although both surveys yielded important find- Our study indicated that, in the aggregate, the public sup- ings, both encountered unforeseen methodological challenges. ports tolling and road pricing. A number of factors influence Although panel designs have enjoyed widespread use in other public opinion, including the type of pricing, whether clarify- fields, they have rarely been adopted in transportation surveys ing or additional information is presented, the use of revenues, in the United States. Research is needed not only to document and communication of the benefits of pricing concept. Public how these designs can be used to address a variety of trans- opinion measures of support or opposition were also associated portation policy and planning issues, but also how to better with survey methods factors, including sponsor of the research, design and execute panel surveys. Higgins in "Congestion target respondent population, or wording of questions. Pricing: Public Polling Perspective" concluded, "Good sur- vey design will illuminate shifts in the magnitude and inten- Given these results, it is obvious that there is a separation sity of opposition and support as well as in net effects." or disconnect between political perceptions of the public atti- tude toward tolling and actual opinions. The following exam- Guidance on best practice survey methods in general and, ple from Illinois is just one way in which this disconnect plays more specifically on reporting public opinion survey results, out in policy making. The Chicago Tribune survey in Illinois, is needed to ensure better comparisons across locations or which was reported in chapter three, was in direct response to timeframes and for better evaluating how the public perceives a proposal by the Illinois governor to remove tolls from the diverse options related to pricing. The quality of survey data Illinois Tollway. That entire proposal resulted from the per- is not always questioned as much as it might be. Recently, ception by the governor that the public was opposed to tolls concerns have been expressed about various aspects of survey and wanted tolls removed. The survey actually showed that quality. Partly, these concerns stem from increased awareness the majority did not want the tolls removed and were willing and understanding of quality issues and improved methods to increase tolls to maintain and reconstruct the system. for estimating their effects on analysis, and partly from an awareness of possible future trends that could further jeopar- However, popular discourse would have one believe that dize survey quality. In particular, the survey research field has the public is opposed to tolling and road pricing. The political noted from several sources an increasing concern with declin- nature of a community and its interest groups often shape the ing response rates. However, response rates are rarely reported public debate and can obscure the majority opinion on the when measures of public opinion are reported in the media or issue. A vocal minority can often transform what is an intrin- by other sponsoring organizations. This research would seek sically complex subject matter into an object of politicking. to develop standardized procedures for improving the con- Rather than stimulate discussion, the transformation of pric- duct, reporting, evaluation, and reliability of public opinion ing into a political issue has in some places resulted in poli- surveys on tolling and road pricing. cies that possess superficial majority appeal but fail to address the real issues of how to deal with infrastructure financing or Tolling and road pricing have become part of contemporary congestion management. transportation planning and policy making vernacular out of the
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49 need to address traffic congestion and infrastructure funding ity. For potential users of such data, a major limitation comes short-falls. However, the public still lacks credible, available from knowing which data are available. For data providers, a information on these issues. Guidebooks could be developed to major limitation is finding ways to let users know what data are assist state departments of transportation and other transporta- available. One possible way to minimize these limitations is to tion agencies in more effectively and proactively communicat- establish an exchange network for pricing data that enables ing, to decision makers and the public, the benefits and chal- data providers and data users to share data efficiently and lenges in tolling and road pricing. The key research question to securely over the Internet. This scoping study would investi- be answered is: "How can the value of pricing and tolling be gate new approaches to providing timely access to higher qual- communicated to influence the perceptions of potential cus- ity data while saving time, resources, and money. A workable tomers and decision makers?" The objective of this project approach could centralize as much data as possible and allow would be to develop a guide for successfully communicating participants to freely add and access data. Data providers or the value of tolling and road pricing for individuals, communi- users would have the ability to enter or access datasets and add ties, and societies. The material in the guide would be based on meta-data as well as reports of quality or other data issues. It the results of communications research and best practices. would provide a versatile tool for researchers, engineers, plan- ners, and operations personnel. Such a system would not only The industry should also consider a scoping study for a increase the use of data and statistics from all available Pricing Data Exchange Network. Good pricing data exist, and sources, but also would increase the demand for improvements the data are available from many public and private sources in the completeness, quality, and timeliness of the data; and in that vary by collection method, timeframe, format, and qual- their collection, processing, and distribution.