Congestion pricing

Another aspect of the Swedish elections: voters in Stockhold back an already-introduced measure that changes a fee to motorists entering the city. Shades of London, where congestion pricing has been in effect for a few years now.

In our traffic-clogged cities, it is an interesting question about if and how such congestion pricing might come into effect. The right has generally opposed such moves on the grounds of “tax grab”, while the left has opposed it due to regressive impacts on poor people who need to drive for employment.

From Planetizen:

In September 2005 when Stockholm officials approved the idea of a congestion charging fee, public opinion was firmly opposed to the idea. One year later, after a seven month trial period, the people of Stockholm have voted to keep the traffic-reduction system in place. Near-complete results for the Sunday referendum showed that 51.7 percent of Stockholm voters approved the traffic toll, while 45.6 percent voted against it.

Depending on the time of day, Stockholm drivers paid 10 kronor and 20 kronor, or about €1-€2 (US$1.30 – US$2.50) when they entered or exited the city’s center. The toll was in effect from 6:30 a.m. to 6:29 p.m. every weekday, with no fees on weekends, holidays or at night. Congestion charging reduced the number of vehicles driving into the center of Stockholm by nearly 25 percent. Noxious emissions declined 10 to 14 percent. And there were no negative impacts on Stockholm’s retail or economic growth.

6 comments

  • …while the left has opposed it due to regressive impacts on poor people who need to drive for employment.

    How many low-wage earners *drive* downtown at rush hour to go to work?

  • Stephen Gordon asks a good question. Statistically, more poor people take public transit, so presumably the converse is that car owners are relatively more affluent. The share of the workforce that is low income and car-dependent is likely to be low. That said, I have not seen any studies that put a number to such an issue.

    Anyone out there want to take a stab at it?

    Another consideration is whether public transit would be expanded in concert with a congestion pricing mechanism. If so, we would need to look at the net benefits to the poor of both increased transit and the charge. If we want to change behaviour we should be providing an alternative means of transportation at the same time.

  • I believe that this has been the case for the London congestion charge – the revenue (or at least some of it) was used to improve public transit.

  • I don’t know enough to take a stab at your question, but I was surprised at your assertion that the left has opposed congestion pricing. Is that really so?

  • I don’t claim any expertise whatsoever in this area but my impression is that traffic congestion problems differ in nature from major city to major city. If the problems differ, so must the solutions.

    In London, England, there was a problem of congestion in the core area of the city that, for example, prevented ambulances from getting from one central point to another in reasonable time. The congestion fee was designed to deal with that specific type of congestion problem.

    To take another example, my impression from recent visits to Toronto is that the congestion problems there are very different. At least at the times I have travelled, traffic flowed somewhat better in the downtown area than out on the 401 and the QEW, where traffic often bogs down in both directions.

    If that’s the case, then encouraging people to park their cars at the outskirts of Toronto and use public transit to the core is at best a very partial solution. It ignores the bigger issue of interregional/intercity traffic congestion.

    In other words, getting people to make more use of interregional trains — that is GO transit (http://www.gotransit.com/publicroot/home.htm) — and getting some of the transport truck traffic diverted to railways or something may be a larger issue than getting people to make more use of the subway system (http://www.toronto.ca/ttc/).

  • There are data from the census on modes of commuting by income and I believe StatsCan put out a short study on this. I suspect most low income workers who commute into larger urban centres by car do so at unsocial workign times when congestion charges would be low. I agree with Marc’s perception that the left’s gut instinct has been against congestion charges, but the London example has probably dissipated a lot of this since the revenue was indeed directed into improving public transit by a polular left mayor (defending public transit against New Labour privatizers.)

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