The Introduction of the Congestion Charge in the Light of Suburbanisation Processes: Public Opinion As a Challenge Ignored Conclusions of a Research Conducted in Budapest
M Jászberényi, Corvinus University of Budapest, HU; A Munkácsy, Institute for Transport Sciences, Budapest, HU
Based on a research carried out in the Budapest Agglomeration, the project focuses on factors which promote a broad public consensus of the application of the congestion charge.
In Central and Eastern Europe over the past one-and-a-half decades suburbanisation has accelerated: socio-economic processes after the change of the political regime have resulted in regional differences, the winners of which are mostly cities, especially capitals. Foreign direct investment is the highest in these large urban areas, it is here that economies develop the most dinamically, and these regions go through modernization at the highest pace.
Due to these specificities transport processes in CEE are not comparable to the suburbanisation model of the USA or Western Europe. This is illustrated very well by Budapest and its agglomeration, the largest monocentric population and production concentration in Central Europe, where suburbanisation went through a dramatic acceleration after political changes two decades ago.
In this two decades the population of Budapest dropped from 2 million to 1.7 million, at present one third of the total population of the country (10 million) live in Budapest and the 78 settlements in its agglomeration. However, the transport structure of the agglomeration in terms of its fundamental characteristics is still based on the directions present at the end of the 19th century, and is adjusted to the fixed route public transport system. It also reflects the contradictions between spatial planning and transport development policies in the 20th century. Therefore, due to the need for mobility at the beginning of the 21st century, congestions are a permanent feature of the network of public roads.
Ideas concerning the transport development in Budapest contain spectacular solutions which remain ideas, either due to the lack of a real intention to change or the lack of funding. For the time being, there are hardly any solutions offered by mobility management in the region. A further important feature of development plans is that they focus on the problems of the city center. Solutions of transport organization to reduce the traffic downtown and infrastructure development to increase the permeability of roads have brought only temporary results.
Like in other cities in CEE (e.g. Prague) the idea of the congestion charge in Budapest has also been raised, as a tool applied to eliminate congestions in several West-European countries. Based on experiences abroad we considered it important to examine whether the conditions of the introduction of the congestion charge in Budapest can be met in the short run, by 2011-2012. As the research by the Economist Intelligence Unit has shown, we cannot ignore the fact that in CEE the shortcomings of the infrastructure network do not make it possible to bypass problematic road sections, public transport is not attractive, therefore, alternatives are needed before the congestion charge is introduced.
Among the preconditions for the succesful introduction of the congestion charge special attention is to be paid to informing, convincing the public: according to the research of Euroforum in 2007 hardly more than half of EU citizens (54%) are ready to pay more for less polluting traffic. The majority of Europeans (60%) object to the congestion charge, though 35% supports the idea. According to our research, the high rate of those against the idea in the Budapest agglomeration (62%) is similar to the findings of the Euroforum. More than two thirds of those having a positive opinion make their willingness to pay conditional upon the amount of the charge.
Consequently, we focused on car drivers as the main target group and examined whether the transport policy measure to introduce the congestion charge in the short run receives a positive reaction from those the most concerned (people living in the agglomeration), and if so under what conditions. Based on the motivations of suburbanisation, attitudes to environmental protection, preferences for transport modes the analysis with the help of statistical methods (logit regression, cluster-analysis) explores the conditions of people?s willingness to pay congestion charge. The analysis by setting up homogeneous groups describes the factors which promote a broad public consensus of the measure.
Thus, the analysis does not only provide orientation for cities in CEE which are at different stages of suburbanisation but encounter traffic problems on a permanent basis, but it also highlights factors which are of importance for settlements following other types of urbanisation models but facing similar challenges in transport and traffic. One of these factors is that whereas transport policy typically focuses on infrastructure development, the information and convincing the primary target group of measures, the definition of concrete development objectives cannot be ignored.
This is something which all European cities to take similar decisions should be aware of, preferably before the decision is made.
Association for European Transport