Consumer behavior and public acceptance to the introduction of a congestion charge in Gothenburg.
Since the implementation of the congestion charge in Gothenburg on the first of January 2013, there has been a debate whether or not the congestion charge would harm the retail business. This concerns, in particular the retail stores located in the charging zone. The general aim of this study was to investigate attitudes and consumer behavior related to the recently introduced congestion charge in Gothenburg and to illustrate the possible impact the congestion charge may have had on retail business performance. In order to do this we conducted a questionnaire survey of visitors to Bäckebol shopping center (n=335). The questionnaire consisted of 24 questions and the response rate was 76 %. In addition, we performed two extensive interviews with key representatives for the local retail business in order to add context and background to the questionnaire findings. In the questionnaire, consumer behavior was investigated by questions on time of visit, destination, and means of transport. In the analyses we assessed associations between changes in consumer behavior, acceptance and demographic factors. The results of this study showed a low level of acceptance of the congestion charge in the study population. Furthermore, we found a high proportion of subjects reporting a behavioral change related to the introduction of the congestion charge. This was associated to but not explained by a low level of acceptance. It was also related to residency outside the inner parts of Gothenburg. In this way our results support the theory of an association between behavioral change, degree of acceptance as well as demographic factors. However, in a comparison of certain aspects of behavioral change to a previous study conducted prior to the introduction of the congestion charge we found no difference. It is likely that behavioral changes related to the congestion charge have taken place but they may have been exaggerated in the questionnaire responses. The interviews implied that the congestion charge has had an effect on business performance in Gothenburg but in this investigation we have not been able to find firm proof of this. We can conclude that there appears to be a low acceptance of the congestion charge in particular in suburban areas of Gothenburg and this is most likely associated with a consumer behavioral change. For further research it would be interesting to obtain information on business performance and customer frequencies before and after the introduction of the congestion charge. In addition it would be of interest to investigate in greater detail the association between acceptance and behavioral change and if retail stores that handle bulky goods are more likely to be affected by a congestion charges than other businesses.
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