Alliance: yes to congestion charging

The new Alliance government has said it will reintroduce congestion charging in Stockholm, and use the money to build a relief road round the capital.

The leaders of the four new governing centre-right parties, which take office on Friday, also said that they were scrapping plans to build the Citybanan rail project, which would have seen tunnels built under central Stockholm.

The four leaders announced the move in a joint article in Dagens Nyheter on Sunday.

The parties said they will appoint an official negotiator to put their plans into effect. He or she would talk to all the affected parties in the region – local and county councils, rail authorities and others, to fix a long-term plan for Stockholm’s transport infrastructure.

“The mandate is to fix a good traffic solution for Stockholmers – and one that we can finance,” said Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson.

“There is a major need in the Stockholm region for public transportation to be fixed, for traffic flows to be improved and to stop congestion in central Stockholm, and there needs to be money to do this,” Olofsson told news agency TT.

Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt, who will become Sweden’s new prime minister this week, said that the parties’ announcement was “a clear message.”

“We are underlining that any charges will finance the bypass,” he said.

Congestion charging has been a tricky area for the Alliance. Of the four parties that form the new government, only the Centre Party has been in favour of charging, which was introduced by the outgoing Social Demcratic government.

The issue has been complicated by the fact that residents of the capital votes yes to the charge in the official referendum in Stockholm, which under the Social Democrats’ plans was to decide whether the charge would get the go-ahead. At the same time, residents in suburban municipalities voted no in separate referenda. The Alliance had promised before the election to take their views into consideration.

The new agreement is something of a victory for the Centre Party, which saw its first councillor elected in Stockholm on the back of a pro-congestion charging ticket:

“We [the Centre Party] have always said yes to congestion charging, if the money goes towards fixing traffic problems. That is part of this agreement – we are very pleased with this,” Olofsson said.

“We will get congestion charging that saves both Stockholm’s city-centre environment and money,” she said.

“I believe that Stockholmers are prepared to pay congestion charges if they see that they get something for them – if the money doesn’t go into the state’s black hole, but rather to Stockholmers themselves.”

Olofsson said that the parties were prepared to allow permanent congestion charging in the capital, but added that this would be decided at local level, rather than being imposed as a state tax as at present.

“If we are going to have congestion charging we will need to change the constitution, and we are opening for that in this agreement. But it should be Stockholm itself that decided on congestion charging, and it should be Stockholm itself that decides which infrastructure to prioritise. This package is the first step towards this.”

The ring road that the four parties point would run from Kungens Kurva to the south-west of the city to Häggvik in the north. This would allow traffic to bypass the capital rather than running through it as at present. The project has previously been estimated to cost 20 billion kronor, and 25 of the 26 local authorities in the Stockholm region support it.

They also promised that state-imposed congestion charging would be scrapped in the future, and decisions on the issue devolved to local councils.