Brussels and Gothenburg highlight difficulties of tackling congestion

The unofficial capital of Europe is the most congested city in Europe, according to the latest ranking of congested cities, but opinion sampling and a vote in Gothenburg suggest public willingness for tackling congestion is not great.

Brussels and the second largest Belgian city Antwerp came top of the ranking list supplied by Inrix, a traffic data organisation. It estimates that drivers in Brussels spend an average of 83 hours a year in road traffic – that’s 3½ days, or more than five days in waking hours.
 
The OECD has called on the two cities to develop strategies to reduce congestion, and has suggested some form of congestion charging or road pricing. Yet when the idea of road pricing was suggested in Belgium earlier this year, there was a massive public outcry against it.
 
And a vote in Gothenburg on 14 September highlighted the difficulty of getting approval for congestion charging through the political process. Sweden’s second city introduced a congestion charge in 2013, largely to fund a rail tunnel that formed part of a larger infrastructure plan for Gothenburg. But a non-binding referendum has now rejected it, leaving the future of the charge uncertain.
 
T&E’s Sweden-based campaigner Magnus Nilsson says: ‘The citizens of Stockholm voted for their congestion charge to stay because they could see the environmental and traffic benefits, but in Gothenburg the main benefit of the charge will be a rail tunnel that won’t be built for at least eight years and the traffic benefits are less obvious. And the way the charge was originally decided was politically questionable, so that also fuelled the No vote.’
 
‘But since the charge formally is a state tax, the decision to abolish the charge has to be taken by the Parliament. There is a possibility that the charge may stay in spite of the outcome of the referendum.’
 
Among the reasons for Brussels’ and Antwerp’s high congestion are generous subsidies for company car use in Belgium, long distances between urban work places and popular rural residential areas, and a lack of attractive alternative transport.