Owners “must pay tolls for stolen cars”

Complaints are growing over Stockholm’s congestion charge trial, as some drivers are making it through without being photographed and charged, while stolen cars are being photographed and the legal owners are stuck paying charges for them.

Officially, the Swedish National Road Administration (Vägverket) says its policy for stolen cars is that the legal owner must object to each congestion charge and wait for a decision and a manual refund, in the case of cars with automatic transponders inside. With 12,000 cars reported stolen in Stockholm county, it could be a paperwork nightmare.

Stockholm resident Claes Fahlman told Svenska Dagbladet that he has already been a victim. He reported his car stolen on January 1, but the automatic transponder in his car showed that the car passed payment stations on January 3.

“It’s bad enough that my car was stolen. But paying for some criminal to drive my car in the city is just unbelievably disturbing,” Fahlman tells the paper.

To make matters worse, Fahlman cannot use the information from the congestion charge to find the car itself. “The law doesn’t allow it. There are confidentiality issues on where and at what time the car passes the payment points,” says Vägverket’s attorney Stig Luttinger.

For stolen cars or erroneous charges, drivers must first pay and then object manually. “It may seem frustrating for individuals, but this is the way the law works,” says project leader Gunilla Velander.

There are, however, some who benefit by the manual facets of the congestion charge.

The administration overload on the premier day, January 3, allowed more than 1000 drivers to cruise through Stockholm without being charged.

The reason? Vägverket simply didn’t have time to see all the license plates as they drove under paypoints. On Tuesday at 7am, those who hadn’t paid in advance simply drove through the city for free.

Louise Jarn Melander at Vägverket says it’s a relatively small problem:

“A few license plates will always be difficult to identify for various reasons. They might be dirty or incorrectly placed on the vehicle, or they may be foreign plates that look similar to Swedish plates,” she told Swedish Radio. (Foreign plates are exempt from the Stockholm congestion charge.)

But starting Wednesday, people could pay manually – and reportedly problem-free –

at Pressbyrån or 7-Eleven after driving through the paypoints.