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Stockholm traffic slashed in first week of charge trial

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13:57 CET+01:00
Rush hour traffic in Stockholm has been slashed by between 25 and 30 percent since the city launched a trial of an intricate road toll system at the beginning of the month, officials said after the first full week.

"This is beyond our expectations and the system is also working well technically," Erik Bromander, a finance ministry expert on the so-called congestion tax, told AFP.

All vehicles, with a few exceptions that include taxis, foreign-registered cars and environmentally friendly vehicles, that enter or exit the central Stockholm area on weekdays during the peak hours of 6:30am to 6:29pm have since January 3rd been required to pay a toll.

Motorists pay between 10 and 20 kronor depending on the time of day they enter or leave the city centre, with an upper limit of 60 kronor a day.

The aim is to reduce traffic by 10 to 15 percent in the Swedish capital, which takes about half a million cars each day, including around 300,000 during peak hours, according to city officials.

The idea for the toll was especially inspired by London, which implemented its congestion charge in February 2003 and has already met its 15 percent traffic reduction target.

In Stockholm, officials have already seen traffic shrink by as much as 35 percent in some places at peak times, when the tolls are most expensive.

The toll system uses infrared cameras to identify the license plates of vehicles passing in and out of the centre.

To pay the charge, drivers have been encouraged to install a transponder in their cars that automatically registers each time it passes a toll and then transfers the appropriate amount from the owner's bank account to the state coffers.

Car owners who do not equip their vehicle with a transponder have five days to pay the tax at banks, various stores or over the Internet.

Public transport, already used by 70 percent of commuters, had been increased in anticipation of a surge of new passengers and has so far easily absorbed the higher number of commuters. New car parks near tram and underground stations outside the toll ring have also helped ease the transition.

According to City of Stockholm spokeswoman Murielle Hugosson, the additional time needed to drive from one side of the city to the other during rush hour has dropped from 200 percent higher than during off-peak hours to only 45 percent higher.

The toll trial period is set to conclude in July. In September the residents of the Swedish capital will vote in a non-binding referendum on whether the charge should be made permanent.

AFP

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