Aug 5

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Traffic Congestion Tax Experiment in Stockholm

WorldChanging reports on a seven-month experiment with a traffic congestion tax in Stockholm. The story is of interest for anyone concerned about possible responses to global warming, the integration of surveillance into routine social policy, or even the perversity of human decision making. The experiment was a huge success:

1. The Trial reduced traffic even more than expected. Planners expected 10-15% reduction, and they got about 22% -- nearly a quarter, on average.

2. Mobility improved significantly. The data showed this, and everyone talked about it: it was a lot easier to get around, and you could more reliably predict that you would arrive at your destination on time.

3. Carbon dioxide emissions were reduced 2-3% overall in Stockholm County, just as a result of this one policy. Reductions were around 14% in the inner city, compared to pre-toll levels.

4. Particulates, NOx, and other noxious pollutants were also (rather obviously) reduced, and science-based cost-benefit calculations show the policy would save a number of people from early death with this policy -- in fact, it would save about 300 cumulative life-years. Probably about 25 people were spared the agony of a traffic injury, as well, just during the short period of the trial.

5. Public transport use increased by about 6% (but about 1.5% of that is credited to higher fuel prices during this period). And we got new buses.

6. At the start of the trial, 55% of Stockholmers thought the trial was a "bad decision." That number fell to 41% after just a few months, as people experienced the effects directly, and the number calling it a "good decision" of course rose. Even those whose travel habits forced them to pay the toll showed an increase in approval for it.


The toll system, which worked nearly flawlessly since being inaugurated on 1 January, was turned off on 31 July. The very next day, traffic jams reappeared on the major arteries that had, magically, been free of such jams for the previous half-year.

While many of the pieces I've posted about surveillance cameras have focused on the civil liberties aspects, here is a case where surveillance cameras are being used for a "socially beneficial" goal. It's a good reminder that technology tends to have both possible new risks and possible new benefits. And also that once a technology is unleashed, it will be put to more and more use.

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Comments: 2

  don wallin [08.05.06 11:36 AM]

This sounds fantastic for big city use, it should be directed further to the people who live IN those big cities since people who live in the surrounding communites are the ones who suffer the most from the "big city" smog. For those of us who live in the valley (San Juaquin) of California, we get all of the smog of San Francisco. San Francisco by the way is not under the strict SMOG 2 standards that we are under in the valley, so we pay more for making less smog and also get the special additional gift of the Franciscans waiste in our lungs! None of the gutless politicians in the valley will challenge the more powerful big city politicians as to this fact, which is total bull****! REVOLT Valley people!!!

  Carl E Eriksson [08.05.06 03:47 PM]

There was already a lack of parking space in Stockholm - so anybody taking his car into town made a choice based on TOTAL cost. During the relatively short experiment traffic dropped more than expected initially but had it continued for another year the drop would brobably have disappeared. If you don't fill your garage you drop your charges some... then the toll will rize...

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