Mobility  |  Successes  |  05.07.2011

Congestion Charging

Congestion charging is a system of surcharging vehicles in busy areas during periods of peak demand in order to reduce traffic pollution and congestion. Stockholm, London and Milan have all implemented congestion zones, along with a number of smaller European cities. The schemes seek to make users pay for the external environmental costs of their journeys, and better regulate access to a public good of fixed supply. In each case the schemes have been successful at reducing congestion and decreasing journey times, have reduced air pollution, noise pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and raised significant revenues for municipalities.

In 2003, London was the first major European city to introduce a congestion charge (following Singapore in 1998). The charge applies between 7.00 and 18.00, from Monday to Friday. The daily charge started out as £5 but has been raised to £10 by 2011; it applies only once if the vehicle enters the zone several times over the course of a day. A 2007 report found that traffic entering the zone had decreased by 16% compared to pre-charge levels, and in the period immediately following the introduction of the charge, journey times decreased by 30%. It is estimated that 40 to 70 injuries are avoided annually as a result of the scheme, which also raised a profit of £190 million over the first three and a half years. All revenues from the charge much be reinvested in London’s transportation infrastructure.The charge uses purpose-built automatic number plate recognition cameras. Drivers pay in advance or on the day, or face an increased fare or a potential penalty fare. Electric and low-emitting vehicles are excluded from the charge. A planned measure that would charge £25 for heavy-polluting vehicles such as 4x4s, was aborted before it could go ahead by the incoming conservative mayor.
The Stockholm congestion charge was introduced in 2007, following a seven month trial period, which saw traffic fall by 25%. This system is noteworthy because it was approved by a majority of citizens in a referendum following the trial. The scheme is similar to London’s except that the charge varies widely depending on the time of day, users are billed at the end of the month, and users are billed for each time they enter the zone even if they do so multiple times in a single day. The charges are considerable lower compared to the rates in London. Introduced as a trail programme in 2008, the Ecopass programme in Milan is similar to the London and Stockholm schemes, except that there is greater gradation of fees according to the vehicle’s emission standard. Fees vary between €2 and €10, low emitting vehicles are exempt, and highly polluting older vehicles are actually banned from the zone. The number of vehicles entering the zone has decreased by some 12%, and accidents fell by 20%. CO2 emissions fell by 14% and particle matter by 18%.

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