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Privacy issues play only a minor role in kilometre charging

16 December 2009

Privacy infringement has become one of the most important issues in the discussion about the introduction of kilometre charging. According to opponents, the ‘track and trace’ system would be an unacceptable infringement of the privacy of motorists. However, research at the University of Groningen has revealed that these issues are not as serious in practice as you would expect. ‘The privacy issue appears to play the strongest role with people who expect to suffer financially’, according to Linda Steg, Associate Professor  of Environmental Psychology.

Steg is supervising two PhD projects in this field – researched by Jan Willem Bolderdijk and Geertje Schuitema. Both will be awarded their PhDs in spring 2010.

Hit in the pocket

The presence of a registration box in the car hardly ever appears to be a reason for objecting on the grounds of privacy infringement. It seems in fact that a lack of knowledge about the advantages of the system is what is breeding discontent. The research by psychologist Jan Willem Bolderdijk has revealed that the acceptance of a box in the car is much more widespread if people do not suffer financially. It thus appears that people make a fuss about privacy issues when they expect the consequences will be negative for them. ‘As long as motorists in the Netherlands do not have the feeling that they are being hit in the pocket, acceptance will probably also be high’, says Bolderdijk.

Tackle scepticism

The research by Geertje Schuitema has revealed that the financial issues also appear to be reasonable, as long as pricing also has positive effects. She investigated the acceptance of the pricing policy by testing the views of users before and after the introduction of a congestion charge in the Stockholm region. On average, the extra costs of the tax were less than many users had foreseen. In addition, the tax turned out to have many more positive effects on traffic jams, exhaust emissions and parking problems than expected.

Changing behaviour

However, a congestion tax is completely different to kilometre charging so the effects of that tax cannot be directly equated with the effects of a kilometre charge. Schuitema’s research has revealed that increasing the price of petrol mainly affects short trips and trips made to do the shopping. In long drives for work – the main cause of traffic jams – motorists have zero or very little inclination to change their behaviour.

Intensive pilot project

Steg is calling for an intensive pilot project, where people will be confronted directly with the costs they make with their driving behaviour and with the effects of that policy on traffic jams and environmental quality. Showing users that the system really works would increase acceptance, on both financial and privacy fronts.

Curricula Vitae

Jan Willem Bolderdijk (Groenlo, 1981) studied Social Psychology in Groningen. His PhD research concentrates on the issue of how people can be motivated to behave in an environmentally friendly fashion using financial stimuli.
Geertje Schuitema (Groningen, 1978) also studied Social Psychology in Groningen, and was then a researcher and lecturer in the Department of Psychology. She is currently a postdoc a the University of Aberdeen.
Linda Steg (Ravenswoud, 1965) studied Adult Education at the University of Groningen and was awarded a PhD by the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. She is Associate Professor of Environmental Psychology and studies the interaction between people and their environment, including factors that can influence car and energy use, and the effects and acceptance of environmental and traffic policy.

Note for the press

Contact: via the secretariat of Social & Organizational Psychology, tel. 050-363 6386


Last modified:15 September 2017 3.27 p.m.
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