Stockholm recently concluded a wonderful experiment in reducing traffic congestion. From January 1 to July 31, they turned on a variable cost toll system which charged 3 different toll levels, peaking twice a day at rush hour. From 6:30pm to 6:30am the roads remained completely free. All this was done using simple metal arches over the roads—no stopping for a toll booth. If you had a transponder box the funds would be deducted from your bank account; if you didn't, you'd receive a bill based on your license plate that could be taken care of at convenience stores.
Guess what? People changed their work schedules. They used buses and bikes more. Those with environmentally friendly cars could chortle a little more since they got a free ride. Travel times dropped by 1/3 at peak hours. Pollution was reduced. Even accident rates went down.
And why did it end July 31st? Because this was a trial period for a plan which was an unpopular initiative. The public vote to make it a permanent system is September 17, with every traffic planner in the world watching closely. While public support is greatly increased (and traffic right back up at December levels with the tolls off), politics are never certain.
- Official Stockholm Trials Web site
- World Changing, a Stockholm-based environmental blog
- Wall Street Journal article (subscription required)
I love it when technology is used to reinforce human behavior instead of to try and force people into a computer's mold. I could live with a toll system like this on 520 or I-90.