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Ring Around Stockholm. 22/3/2004
Stockholm looks set to become the latest city to embrace the culture of congestion charging when it begins trials of its electronic toll collection system in about June next year. But as the city authorities prepare to award the contract for the 18 month trial, questions continue to dominate the political scene about the long-term future of the initiative, and the final outcome is still far from certain.

"Congestion charging has been discussed in Stockholm for more than twenty years," said Joanna Dickinson, Project Manager of the Congestion Charging Secretariat at the SLK, Stadsledningskontoret, the City of Stockholm authority. "Following elections in 2002, the political decision was taken to set up a trial but, at the moment, the idea does not have the support of the majority of residents in Stockholm, with around 56% expressing a negative attitude."

Nor can there be any level of confidence that exposure to the benefits of more free-flowing traffic and a reduction in particulate emissions will alter peoples attitude in favour of the system.

At about the same time that the Stockholm trial is due to commence, the residents of Trondheim in neighbouring Norway will be holding an election on the result of their own congestion charging scheme. There, opposition politicians have threatened to cancel the scheme if they win power and there appears to be a strong mood to do so. If it survives at all, Trondheim's system will probably owe more to the economic realities of life than any desire by drivers to see the current position continue. A similar situation exists in London with the Mayor's main political rival, campaigning to scrap the congestion charge as soon as possible.

Be that as it may, the short-term future of the Stockholm trial looks to be assured even if the proposed 18 month period ill be difficult to squeeze in before the date of the referendum called to decide its future on 17th September 2006. An enabling Bill is due to be placed before the Swedish Parliament in April this year and, shortly after that will come the selection of a consortium to run the scheme.

"There is always a risk in politics but our impression," said Dickinson, "is that the government is (committed to the project)."

Confined to a relatively small area within the greater Stockholm region, the trial will be based on a single cordon around a City with a total of 21 control points at which motorists will be charged as they both enter and leave the zone, up to a set maximum daily charge. The charge varies from 10SEK to 20SEK according to the time of day and is designed to reduce the congestion problems that are estimated to cost between 3 and 8 Billion SEK annually (between €400,000 and €900,000). Weekend travel within the zone, as well as evenings and nights all week, will be free.

"One of the principal objectives of the scheme," said Dickinson, "is to reduce traffic volume by 10-15 percent on the most heavily used routes during morning and afternoon hours. The charge is therefore highest during the morning and evening peak hours and reduces either side."

The collection of the toll - or as the government prefers to call it, the tax - will be based on the CEN DSRC microwave pre-standards at 5.8 GHz, supported by ANPR technology for enforcement purposes. The inning consortium will be given a maximum 12 month period for the construction and deployment of the tolling infrastructure and the trial will test both the system technology and the reaction of drivers to the concept of congestion charging.

"We spent some considerable time looking at the alternative technologies," said Dennis Bring, Project Manager EFC-system within the Miljöavgiftskansliet Stockholms stad Stadsledningskontoret. "but the pre-studies, which included an examination of the operating costs, suggested DSRC. We looked at the London scheme based on ANPR and we also looked at GNSS. The GNSS we shelved because we felt it was immature technology and too complex. In addition to that, the OBU for the satellite-based system was much more expensive than the DSRC one. "Another consideration was the time factor. The proposed legislation will require us to begin and end on a particular date and we must have the system operational on time. This meant choosing a technology which had already been tested in other parts of the world. Work on procurement of the technical systems was initiated in the spring and summer 2003."

But it is the decision to regard the toll as a tax which is likely to have a number of implications. The most significant of these include the absence of any financial penalty for opting out of the automated, OBU-based, payment system and the length of time permitted to drivers to pay the amount due.

"As a tax," said Bring, "there can be no penalty for choosing one method of payment over another but the policy is likely to influence people's choice of whether or not to have an OBU, especially if they have to buy or rent the equipment, as is being envisaged. There is the very real possibility of a low take-up rate amongst drivers for on-board units and an overstretching of the enforcement process.

"The second point," he said, "is that the tax does not become immediately payable and drivers will have five days in which to pay and a further two months before the matter is passed to the Swedish Government Enforcement Agency for enforcement proceedings to begin."

Time will tell whether this unusual system of tolling enforcement can be sustained particularly given the concerns expressed over the probable take up of the on-board unit by the majority of drivers. That part of the revenue which remains after the consortium running the scheme has taken its dues, will be hypothecated by the central government to the Stockholm region for investment in public transit and infrastructure associated with the trial. It is not intended to reduce Stockholm's share of government funding which it already receives in respect of its infrastructure.

For further information, contact:
1. Joanna Dickinson, Project manager, Congestion Charge Secretariat, City of Stockholm. Email: joanna.dickinson@stadshuset.stockholm.se Tel: +46-8-508 29 967 Mob: +46+70 47 29 967.
2. Dennis Bring, Project Manager EFC-system, Congestion Charge Secretariat, City of Stockholm, Executive Office. Tel: +46 8 508 29 422 Mobile: +46 70 47 29 422. E-mail: dennis.bring@stadshuset.stockholm.se
 
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