Traffic trial stuck between red and green

Plans for the introduction of a congestion charge in central Stockholm have become gridlocked, according to Saturday's Dagens Nyheter.

The city’s ruling ‘red-green’ coalition of the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Green Party can’t agree on when the trial should take place. The Social Democrats are pressing for an April 2005 start date but unless they move it back two months the other two parties say they will withdraw their support for the scheme.

“There is no chance of it beginning in April,” said the Left Party’s Margareta Olofsson. “The technical systems won’t even be ready by then – it’s going to be complete chaos.”

Åsa Romson, of the Green Party, was even more forthright: “I don’t think the Social Democrats want this congestion charge at all – that’s why they’re trying to drag out the decision.”

Not true, said the man with his foot on the Social Democrats’ gas pedal, Tomas Rudin. In fact, the question is when the trial ends, not when it begins.

“We want the trial finished by polling day in September 2006 so that Stockholmers can vote on whether they think it worked or not,” he told DN. “We’ve made a decision and we’re sticking to it.”

Commuters planning to switch to the train or bus to avoid the congestion charge may find their options limited, thanks to Stockholm Council’s decision to cut funding to the city’s public transport company by 300 million crowns next year.

Despite a 20% jump in the cost of the monthly travel card in March, the reduction could still to lead to the closure of the Lidingö and Nockeby lines – and further price increases.

But it’s not just the capital’s traffic management that’s going off the rails: Göteborgs Posten reported this week that after four price rises in less than three years, the number of people travelling on public transport in the Västra Götaland region has fallen for the first time ever.

While the paper calculates that the total increase is around 30%, the chairman of Västtrafik, Leif Blomqvist, reckons you get what you pay for.

“The low prices in the 90s led to serious quality failings, with tatty buses and high staff turnover,” he said. “Now, with better funding, the service will improve.”

Tell that to Stockholm’s commuters.