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Tolling Points

Public Perspective on Tolling Takes the Stage at IBTTA Finance Summit

By: 
Bill Cramer

Understanding the public perspective on highway finance is one of the first steps in building trust with the communities tolling agencies serve. At IBTTA’s Summit on Finance & Policy, July 23-24 in Portland, Oregon, one of the most important and innovative sessions will focus on how to solidify that link.

“In this session, toll operators and policy experts will talk about programs that help low-income and unbanked customers take full advantage of the mobility options offered by their facilities,” the conference program states. “They will also discuss policy principles that could make the introduction of tolling more palatable to a region’s citizens.”

During the session, Michelle Neiss, Ph.D., Vice President of Research at DHM Research, will talk about her firm’s recent public opinion research on how to open a dialogue with potential customers, stakeholders, and other members of the public. In an email interview with Tolling Points, she said it all begins where most of us already have common ground.

The Outcomes People Value

“We can all agree that transportation plays an important role in supporting a healthy economy and community,” she wrote. “However, a strong transportation system is not top of mind for people. It often doesn’t even come up in the top tier of responses when we ask people about the most important issues.”

That means transportation and tolling professionals and other policy leaders “need to talk about transportation in a way that better resonates with people. If we start the conversation with funding, we’ll lose people, because the public isn’t aware of how transportation is funded. We have to connect transportation to the outcomes and benefits people value.”

A frequent and crucial example: “A common word at many transportation events is ‘infrastructure’,” Neiss notes. “Stop using that word when you talk to the public!! They don’t get what you’re talking about. I’ll share alternative words at my session.”

Talking Equity, Not Cost

DHM’s public opinion research also sheds light on the other question on the session agenda—the challenge of helping low-income and unbanked customers take advantage of the greater mobility made possible by tolling and toll revenue.

“We know cost is an important issue regardless of household income,” but “how we talk about cost may need to be different based on the audience. This is not a one-size fits all approach,” Neiss explained.

She said the broader discussion around toll revenue “is moving away from ‘what’s fair’, where everybody pays the same price, to an equity conversation” that “resonates with our low-income commuters. Many low-income households live far away from job centers because they can no longer afford to live in high-rent areas. How will toll revenue factor in these financial and life situations for people in our communities? Discussions shaped by empathy help people trust that their concerns are being considered.”

All of which underscores the greatest benefit data science can deliver for the tolling community—whether it’s private research by a firm like DHM, or an in-house data powerhouse like IBTTA TollMiner.

“Some of the biggest value DHM brings as data scientists is to provide a different perspective,” Neiss wrote. “We want to support transportation and policy leaders with data-driven insights. If we want people to understand the importance of transportation, we need to better understand the values and priorities of the public.”

Get the data-driven perspectives that will support your local tolling operations! Sign up before it’s too late for IBTTA’s Summit on Finance & Policy, July 22-24, 2018 in Portland, OR.