From: Tommy Grandell, Associated Press
Published January 4, 2006 12:00 AM

Stockholm Tries out Traffic Tolls To Ease Congestion

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Drivers had to pay a fee to enter Stockholm on Tuesday as the city started a seven-month trial of a contentious program designed to reduce traffic and cut pollution in the Swedish capital.


Stockholm is the latest capital to experiment with congestion fees, which have already been introduced in London and Singapore. Oslo, Norway, has a flat fee for cars entering the city.


Depending on the time of day, Stockholm drivers have to pay between 10 kronor and 20 kronor, or about euro1-euro2, when they enter or exit the city's center. The toll is in effect from 6:30 a.m. to 6:29 p.m. every weekday. There is no fee on weekends, holidays or at night.


City officials hope the initiative will cut traffic on the busiest streets by up to 15 percent, but critics say the toll is too expensive and that low-income commuters living in the suburbs will be hardest hit. Some local politicians have also complained that the national government is collecting the revenue and not the city.


Tomas Nilson, a spokesman for the Swedish Automobile Association, called the congestion tax a "violent attack on democracy," noting that recent polls have shown a majority of Stockholm residents oppose it.


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The group staged protests at entry points to the city, where it loaded cars onto trucks so that they could evade the congestion charge. Cars being towed or carried on a trailer are exempt from the fee.


The city government said morning traffic went down by 16 percent, or about 13,400 vehicles, at the toll entry points compared with Monday morning. However traffic on a toll-exempt highway that runs through parts of city increased by about 2,500 vehicles, said project leader Gunnar Hook. Traffic before the tolls opened was also unusually high, he said.


"The big test will be on Monday, when traffic really gets started," Hook added, noting that many Swedes are still on Christmas vacation.


The trial ends July 31 and Stockholmers will decide in a city referendum Sept. 17 whether to make the toll permanent.


The toll is expected to prompt many commuters to leave their cars at home and take public transportation instead, raising concerns of overcrowded buses and trains.


The city has installed devices to read electronic tags on cars' windshields. Every time a car is registered, a signal will be sent to a central computer, which will send a bill to the owner.


Cars with foreign or diplomatic license plates or handicap tags are exempt, as are taxis, buses, motorcycles, and cars running on clean fuels.


London successfully introduced a congestion charge in 2003 charging motorists on weekdays to enter a crowded 20-square-kilometer (eight-square-mile) zone that includes the bustling financial district.


Oslo has had a toll cordon surrounding the city since 1990. On Jan. 1, another Norwegian city, Trondheim, scrapped congestion charges that had been in place since 1991 to collect money for road construction.


The Stockholm trial was followed closely in neighboring Denmark, where Copenhagen's new top mayor Ritt Bjerregaard said she was in favor of introducing a similar system.


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Associated Press reporters Doug Mellgren in Oslo and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.


Source: Associated Press


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