Stockholm votes ‘yes’ to congestion charging

Voters in Stockholm have said yes to the city’s congestion charge, but confusion reigns over whether it will be re-introduced.

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After a seven-month trial earlier this year, Stockholm held a referendum this month on whether to make the charge permanent. In answer to the question: “Should congestion tax be used in Stockholm?”, 53% voted yes and 47% no, making it the first European city to approve a road user charge.

Whether the vote will mean a reintroduction of the congestion charge is less clear thanks to a complicated set of political circumstances. A somewhat different referendum was held in 14 of the 25 other municipalities in Greater Stockholm – areas under control of centre-right parties – and in answer to the question “Should the congestion tax in Stockholm be made permanent?”, 39.8% voted yes and 60.8% no.

The picture has been further confused by the change of government at national level, with the centre-left coalition being voted out of office and replaced by a centre-right coalition. The main parties of the new government have said they do not recognise a majority in favour of the charge so it will not be re-introduced. But the new governing coalition includes MPs who are in favour of congestion charging, and as Bulletin went to press negotiations to find a compromise to reintroduce the charge were in progress.

T&E director Jos Dings said: “The political dealings following the referendum and the national election should not obscure the fact that a majority of those people who were most affected by the charge voted for it. That is highly significant, because it shows that when you have a trial period and show people what benefits can come from congestion charging, public perceptions change.

“Opposition to London’s congestion charge was strongest before it was introduced, but it largely evaporated once the charge came into effect and proved to be effective. By contrast, the vote on Edinburgh’s proposed charge was taken before the charge came into effect, and a clear majority rejected it.”

Stockholm ran a trial between 3 January and 31 July this year. The city authorities had hoped the charge (between €1 and €2 per city entry, up to €6 per day) would reduce cars entering and leaving the Swedish capital by 10-15%. The average reduction turned out to be 20-25%, despite exemptions for buses, taxis, electric cars, hybrid vehicles and all foreign-registered cars.

Attitudes survey

A new report from Germany throws new light on citizens’ attitudes to the introduction of road pricing schemes.

A survey from the University of Dresden suggests that once a road pricing system is decided or looks likely to happen and citizens can no longer avoid it, their attitudes towards charging become more positive.

The report of the survey, published in Transportation Research magazine, relates only to Germany and will need to be replicated by more evidence from other countries. But the author, Jens Schade, believes something similar happened with the euro: before its introduction those convinced that it would happen felt more positive about the euro than those who felt it could
still be resisted.

Schade said: “I would like to see more research so my conclusions can be validated, but I see no reason why they wouldn’t be relevant for other countries. And if they prove to be right, policy makers should take the likely positive change in attitudes into account when considering the introduction of a road charging scheme.”

Milan

Milan could become the latest city to try a congestion charge. Last month, the mayor of the Italian city, Letizia Moratti, said she wanted to test a variable toll from the beginning of next year, largely to fight the city’s severe air quality problems. She says her aim is to cut the number of vehicles in Milan by 30% in five years.

The charge is expected to average around €2 per vehicle per day, but adjusted to take account of the vehicle’s technology. “The cars that pollute most will bear the greatest cost,” a spokeswoman for the mayor said.

Singapore, Toronto and the American state of Oregon have all introduced forms of congestion charging, while other cities have imposed charges for entering historic city centres. San Francisco is currently conducting a feasibility study into a system similar to London’s.

•   The British transport minister Douglas Alexander has called for national standards for road pricing schemes in cities and on inter-city roads to avoid confusion between different schemes in different cities. The idea of a full national scheme reflects the growing acceptance of road charging, but it is likely to be opposed by cities as it will take power away from local and
regional government.

This news story is taken from the September 2006 edition of T&E Bulletin.


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