The introduction of kilometre charging has come a step closer since Minister Eurlings recently submitted a Kilometre Charging Bill to the Dutch House of Representatives. It led to hot debates, but only a few are concerned with the communication with car drivers. That’s not very wise, professor of Environmental Psychology Linda Steg and professor of Telematics George Huitema feel. It’s good communication with the users and feedback via the invoice that will have the most effect on how successful the regulation will be.
The desired effect of kilometre charging is fewer traffic jams and a reduction in CO2 emissions. Huitema: ‘The aim is to change people’s behaviour. What you have to realise is that billing is one of the most important means of communication in all this.’ Steg: ‘Exactly how the billing will be done and how this will be communicated will have a major influence on the final result. For example, continuous awareness of the costs you are making while driving will probably be more effective than a monthly invoice after the fact.’
Huitema: ‘With large-scale charging for services, at a very early stage in the process it’s important to think about what you want the bill to look like and how you are going to gather the necessary data.’ According to Huitema, at least as important is involving the future user in the process. ‘Hold large-scale test runs, not only in a laboratory environment but also in actual practice. That’s the only way you’ll end up with an invoice and a system that users really understand. And the better they understand it, the more satisfied they’ll be.’
Huitema also thinks the way that the bill is designed is very important. ‘If the bill is not transparent, you immediately foster resistance among the users of the system. Not everyone will be interested in a complete overview of their driving habits and the related financial consequences at every moment of the day, but make sure that the possibility to get it is there – that could be online, via SMS, on paper, or even better in the car itself.’
Steg: ‘The emphasis in the discussion about kilometre charging is currently very negative, for example that the government will be able to follow our every move. The communication should emphasize the positive aspects of the new regulation as well. Present it as a service – car drivers are provided with an overview of their car use costs and are thus able to make savings. In an ideal situation it would even be possible to work out what your car journey is going to cost in advance so that you can weigh the alternatives.’
Previous research has revealed that the level of acceptance has a lot to do with the degree to which people believe that the system is effective. Steg: ‘Acceptance is strongly related to the degree to which users believe that kilometre charging will reduce traffic jams and CO2 emissions. Possible increases in personal costs play a much less important role. That has been clearly shown in Stockholm, for example. People were very sceptical of kilometre charging in advance, but once it appeared that it really did have an effect, everyone was much more positive about it. That in turn also had a positive effect.’
According to Huitema and Steg, large-scale research is essential into the relationship between pricing, communication with the user and the effects of a pricing policy. In the Dutch situation in particular, with many different types of drivers using the roads, each with their own goals, pricing measures could generate unexpected and maybe even undesirable effects.
Steg: ‘There’s a comparable discussion going on in the energy world at the moment concerning the introduction of new energy facilities like smart meters. Here, too, there’s been lots of discussion of the potentially negative effects, such as loss of privacy.’ Huitema: ‘The golden rule here, too, is to develop a clear, transparent billing system right from the word go, involving the user, and to choose good communication about the system and with the system.’
George Huitema (Bolsward, 1957) is professor of Telematics at the University of Groningen and a senior strategist at TNO ICT. His most important field of attention is billing – the large-scale invoicing of services with applications, inter alia, in the telecom, transport and energy worlds. Huitema is a member of the Revenue Management Initiative of the Telemanagement Forum and a frequent speaker at international billing conferences.
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 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.
For more information: Prof. George Huitema, tel. (050) 363 3864 or Prof. Linda Steg, tel. (050) 363 6386
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