Car Tax Clears the Roads

Sahara Sumpter

Driving down Klarastrandsleden, one of the major highways in Stockholm, used to be a necessary evil for commuters entering and leaving the city. Bumper-to-bumper traffic was routine.  Air quality in Stockholm was deteriorating. Morale was getting low as the state of the environment worsened.

Something needed to be done.

Gunnar Soderholm, the director of the Environment and Health Administration of Stockholm, said that over the past 20 years the city has taken many measures, including reducing traffic, to improve environmental conditions in Stockholm.

One way the city dealt with traffic congestion, and the pollution that came with it, was to impose a tax on cars going into and out of the city, said Soderholm.

The tax was created in early 2006, given a trial run, and officially implemented in 2007. At first, 80 percent of the Stockholm opposed the tax because of the cost of getting back and forth between home and work, Soderholm said.

“This was the biggest political debate in Stockholm,’’ said Soderholm, speaking to a group of University of Miami students in an ornate room in City Hall decorated with paintings of former  mayors, intricate ceilings, and chandeliers. “The people were furious.”

But after people saw how the tax reduced traffic congestion and improved the environment, it slowly gained support.

Commuters could see results on the first day, Soderholm said.   On that day, every fourth car disappeared from the roads. Commuters saved up to 20 minutes on their trips.

People in surrounding communities also favor the tax, Soderholm said.

Each trip between 6 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays costs up to about 18 Swedish krona or $2.50, depending on the time of day. Once a driver going in and out of town pays about 54 Swedish krona or about $7.50 there are there are no further charges for the day.  The government collects the charges with a monthly bill sent to homes. So there are no toll booths, which also helps the flow of traffic.

Since the tax was implemented, traffic has decreased 20 percent, Soderholm said.  Carbon emissions from automobiles have declined 14 percent, the Department of Environmental and Health Admissions says. And there has been a 10 percent improvement in air quality, the agency says.

Soderholm said he now rides his bike to work so he doesn’t have to pay the fee for using a car in Stockholm. He still uses his car sometimes and he said he spends $5 to $7 a month in car taxes.  But he is expecting to pay more soon.  “My son is now starting to drive,” he said. “so that’s going to be where all my money goes.” #


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