Transportation planners around the world were waiting with anticipation to see how the electorate in Stockholm would vote on whether to continue with their controversial congestion charge.
Results are in, and they’re tight. From the International Herald Tribune:
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.
The congestion fee was contested when city officials introduced it in a seven-month trial that ran between January and July.
But public opinion swung in favor of the charges after studies showed that weekday traffic on average dropped 20 percent during the trial, while pollution decreased 9-14 percent
A city analysis showed permanent congestion fees would bring a net profit of nearly 500 million kronor (€54 million; US$69 million) a year — money that would be spent on improving public transportation and better roads.
The debate is not over yet. New centre-right governments (still left by the rest of the world’s standards) at both the national and civic level are not predisposed to support a permanent introduction of the charge, given opposition from the Stockholm suburbs.
Which points again to a fascinating anomaly about road pricing.
You would think, in principle, that right-wing governments would be strongly in favour of road pricing. Here, after all, is a way for the market to regulate the distribution of a scarce resource by sending proper pricing signals to individuals, who can then make their own informed choices. Better yet, it provides a stream of revenue to fund the alternative – more transit – that also serves those negatively affected by the charge. And the money doesn’t have to come solely from general revenues or other taxes. Best of all, the system actually works, and delivers what it promises.
What’s not to like?
And yet proposals for road pricing turns right-wingers into raving socialists. There’s nothing so heart-warming as to hear a conservative politician defend the right of the poor working person to use the road already paid for through taxes. So let’s spend billions to build more roads to deal with the congestion created by building all the ‘free’ roads in the first place. It’s all about ‘the psychology of the previous investment’ – and to hell with ideological consistency.
One other observation for the moment: the effects of congestion charging seem remarkably similar in those cities that have introduced it. A 20 percent drop in traffic occurred both in London and Stockholm.
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