Communication is important in all UVAR phases, and a communication strategy should be an early step. The strategy will depend on many factors and involves – like many aspects of implementing an UVAR – balance and judgement, however there are some general guidelines, covered in this section.
There are different aspects of communication, involving different and overlapping groups:
- Participation (stakeholder events)
- Notification (to publicise the matter to be consulted on)
- Public consultation (large two-way flow of information and feedback)
- Disseminating information on the scheme once it is confirmed (using a range of methods)
- Queries and complaints
In all aspects of communication, it is important to reach interest groups and communities with specific needs (such as women, youth, low-income groups, those not working, the elderly, people with disabilities and minority groups). Considering the views of a wide range of stakeholder groups from the initial stages is key to ensuring the future success of UVARS.
An UVAR, like any policy, needs to be presented in a clear, structured, visual way. Communicating it as part of a “story” can be helpful, and it should be concise, self-explanatory and appealing. The reason(s) for implementation should be clearly communicated and make the link to the scheme and the action that the scheme requires. Figure 8 provides an example from the city of Antwerp. Variations on the story can be tailored to different language, demographic or socio-economic groups in your city. Overall, different messages and formats will be required depending on whether you are talking to city engineers, planners or politicians or communicating the information to individuals or businesses. Logos and images can also help messages reach a wide range of target audiences and gain visual recognition, as was done with the superblock scheme “Superguizza” in Padua (see Figure 9).
Figure 8: Illustrated explanation of the LEZ in Antwerp (https://www.slimnaarantwerpen.be/en/LEZ)
Figure 9: Superblock logo in Padua’s Guizza neighbourhood (source: Padovanet)
It is important in your communications to use language that is clear and easily understood. Focus groups can be valuable to help the city determine how best to talk about the scheme, including how to describe the geographical boundaries, the most compelling reasons for the scheme and the benefits it will bring. This will help make sure the scheme is relevant to local people, is understood, can be related to and ultimately it will increase support for the scheme
Selling the advantages
For those whose regular travel is directly affected by the UVAR, it may be easy to see the disadvantages and inconveniences. For this reason, communication should start from the benefits so that as many people as possible also see the advantages. Images from Ravensburg, Germany and Ghent, Belgium (see Figure 10) show the gains in attractiveness created by past UVARs. While these were highly controversial at the time, few would dispute their value now.
It is helpful to present the advantages to each group that would appeal to its members. For example, messages to local shopkeepers could include:
- People who walk to the high street can spend up to 40% more than people who drive there.
- Pedestrianised and traffic calmed areas attract customers who are likely to spend more time (and money) there than in a shopping street full of car traffic.
If key stakeholders such as shopkeepers see the UVAR as positive, this will significantly improve its chances of acceptance (see stakeholder section 4.2). Working with shopkeepers not only in developing the scheme, but also once it is decided can help to ensure that they serve as champions for the scheme rather than hindering it.
Figure 10: Before and after images of UVAR implementations in Ravensburg and Ghent
Nonetheless, a certain amount of opposition is to be expected when implementing most UVARs. Involving people in the development process means they are more aware of the arguments for and against different aspects, and they feel part of the process. It also allows you to receive critical input and address it at an early stage. This is much more constructive and efficient than receiving negative feedback on a finalised scheme because you had overlooked important needs of a stakeholder group.
Open or closed? Language influences perception
Ensure that the general perception remains that the city (or part thereof) is open and accessible, albeit perhaps not by private car. In doing this, consider the language you use; for example, a closed road has only been closed to cars. It has been opened to people walking or cycling. See, for example, the additional sign for a neighbourhood traffic street in London in Figure 11 which highlights that the street is only closed for vehicles; it is very much open to people.
This is particularly important for a scheme in the city centre. Shopkeepers and business owners must still see the city as open, otherwise there is a risk that they may share (and therefore promote) the idea that the city is inaccessible, thereby inadvertently harming their own businesses. Of course, language alone is not enough to address this. It may be necessary to improve or increase the sustainable mobility offering to ensure that the city is – and is perceived as – open and easy to access. For more information on this, see the complementary measures section 2.3.
Figure 11: Supportive signage for a low-traffic neighbourhood in London (photo: Alamy)
The right amount of information at the right time to the right people
As with many things, decisions on who, what and when is a question of judgement. Early in the UVAR development there may be less concrete information available, but more ability for those with whom you are talking to influence the direction of the development. Where decisions or views are expected, there should be sufficient information on which to make informed decisions. This is particularly important before a public consultation, or even a referendum (which is high risk and should be well considered before undertaking). UVAR referenda have been used successfully (and unsuccessfully) for large, controversial, schemes such as congestion charging. Some of the successful ones involved trials, which enabled the success to be demonstrated, some of the unsuccessful ones had the referendum at an early stage, when the scheme and its positive impacts were not sufficiently developed.
A tale of two cities: The difference communication makes
The stories of the congestion charges in Stockholm and Gothenburg can give good insight to how different approaches can lead to different levels of public acceptance.
In 2007, Stockholm introduced the first congestion charge in Sweden. In 2013, the Gothenburg congestion charge was introduced.
While the two cities sit on different sides of the Swedish peninsula, they are comparable in many ways and share the same social, cultural and legal context. Although there were many similarities between the two schemes, the acceptance levels turned out to be very different. The different outcomes of the schemes highlight the importance of the design and communication of a scheme and of the local context to an UVAR.
The Stockholm congestion charge was launched as a half-year trial followed by a public referendum. Prior to the trial, the approval rate was as low as 21%. The referendum resulted in a 53% approval rate from the citizens. Later, the approval rates climbed as high as 70%.
The Gothenburg congestion charge had a public acceptance level of 28% before the implementation (2013). At the time of the 2014 referendum, the public acceptance level had grown to 43%. Although a majority of citizens voted against the scheme, the city’s government argued that there was a lack of policy alternatives to put in place to replace the congestion scheme, and therefore kept it in place without the support of the majority of the public. The highest approval rate of the Gothenburg scheme was reached later in 2014 with an acceptance rate of 51%, but has decreased since, never reaching the sustainable approval rate of Stockholm’s scheme.
Plenty of factors play a role in the difference of approval ratings between the two cities. Due to the similarities between the two cities, the differences are to be found in the different levels of congestion, political process and public engagement. The main reason for the differences in acceptance lie in the fact that in Stockholm the congestion charge was framed as a green policy (with money raised supporting mobility), while in Gothenburg, it was framed as a measure to raise funds for transport infrastructure.
 See, for example, section 4.7.4