Stockholm’s congestion charge still going strong

By Bill Holloway

Stockholm’s congestion pricing system, which charges between €1 and €2 (US$1.30- $2.60) to drivers traveling into the central city during rush hour, is a continuing success six years after its initial implementation. While there was speculation that drivers would soon become habituated to the charge and resume their normal travel patterns following implementation, the 20 percent reduction in traffic volume seen immediately after the program launch has, in fact, remained constant.

In addition, while there was significant public opposition to the congestion charging system when it was first implemented, public support has significantly increased – from 30 to 70 percent of the population expressing support for the program. Interestingly, because of the many factors affecting individual travel decisions, most drivers do not even recognize that the congestion charge has impacted their travel behavior. In this short TED x talk, Jonas Eliasson, Director of the Centre for Transport Studies at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, discusses the success of Stockholm’s congestion fee system and the public’s reaction to it.

Aside from Stockholm, London, Oslo, and Singapore also have cordon fee systems in place which charge drivers operating within certain heavily congested areas. The oldest of these systems – in Singapore – was first implemented in 1975. In both London and Singapore, the systems have resulted in reduced traffic congestion and increased transit ridership.

The newest of these systems – Milan’s program – was first implemented as a one-year trial in 2008 to reduce congestion and air pollution in the central city. Following a referendum in 2011, a somewhat revised version of the congestion charge system was undergoing an 18-month trial. However, in August a court ruling in favor of city garages halted the test, and the future of the program is now uncertain. Though cordon fee systems often meet with significant public resistance initially, support generally increases after enactment.

In the U.S., there has been mixed support for cordon fee systems. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was widely criticized for his 2008 proposal to implement a congestion charge in Manhattan. However, in August the Boston Globe ran an opinion piece examining Stockholm’s success, which suggested that a congestion charge might aid the budget woes of the MBTA and simultaneously relieve Boston’s notorious traffic congestion.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.