Friday, 11 January 2013

Gothenburg introduces congestion charging

On 2 January 2013 Gothenburg became the second city in Sweden to introduce congestion charging.  I wrote about the planned scheme in 2011 with some details, more details are now available from the Swedish transport website here.

Gothenburg is Sweden's second city with a population of around 0.9 million in the wider metropolitan area.   The Council agreed to the congestion tax in 2010, but it has been controversial with some citizens demanding a referendum similar to Stockholm.

Lots of information is available in Swedish on the website.


Traffic Technology Today reports on the governance of the tax:

The project is a partnership between the Swedish Transport Agency (Transportstyrelsen) and the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket). The Transport Administration is in charge of operating and maintaining the tolling infrastructure, while the Transport Agency is responsible for collecting revenue and operating the administration and financial systems.

Price, operating hours and exemptions

There are 36 crossing points on the system's cordon, which operates for 12.5 hours every weekday (except public holidays, the day before a public holiday and the month of July) between 0600 and 1830.  

The charging points are said to be designed to target congestion, and comprises one single cordon, with an additional charging point on the Älvsborg Bridge (part of the western ring road bypass to the city), and a curious series of charging points off to the north along the E6 motorway.   The website in Swedish offers explanations for these unusual additions based on traffic management, the Älvsborg Bridge is a matter of concern that it would be more congested due to diversion if it was not charged, and the E6  approaches because of fear that charging the road itself would create diversions through residential areas, so it is better to charge the approaches from those areas it would appear (although it is likely to cause concern for those seeking to drive onto the E6 to go north rather than towards the city).

Gothenburg congestion tax map of charging points
The price range is between SEK 8 (US$1.22) and SEK 18 (US$2.74) per crossing, with a cap of SEK 60 (US$9.14)  as follows (there is no differentiation by vehicle type in that trucks and minibuses pay the same as cars):

Time of day Tax
00:00 – 05:59 0 SEK
06:00 – 06:29 8 SEK
06:30 – 06:59 13 SEK
07:00 – 07:59 18 SEK
08:00 – 08:29 13 SEK
08:30 – 14:59 8 SEK
15:00 – 15:29 13 SEK
15:30 – 16:59 18 SEK
17:00 – 17:59 13 SEK
18:00 – 18:29 8 SEK
18:30 – 23:59 0 SEK
Only Swedish registered vehicles are required to pay (Sweden's authorities are preferring not to chase up foreign registered vehicles) and the exempt vehicles include emergency vehicles, military vehicles, full sized buses, motorcycles and vehicles with disabled parking permits.

There is no exemption for electric or other low emission vehicles on the grounds that they contribute to congestion.  Taxis are also not exempt on the grounds that they will benefit from the reduction in congestion, and will likely reach the daily capped amount.

The issue of foreign vehilces is not being ignored as the government has appointed a commission to examine how it can charge a tax or fee for foreign vehicles.  Findings are expected to be reported in February 2013.  I expect the example of London to be considered as one approach (as Transport for London has a contractor that pursues such fees and fines from foreign EU jurisdictions, and I was last told it has about a 33% success rate)

Technology, payment and fines

Q Free was contracted to provide the system at a price of US$25.5 million, using ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) technology, with higher charges at peak times compared to the interpeak (similar to Stockholm).  A tweet from one Magnus Rex indicated 97% accuracy for the system, a far cry from the less than 50% accuracy some such systems had over a decade ago. Payment is either by account with direct debit, or by prepayment or postpayment online or via retail outlets.   At the end of each month, a bill is sent to the vehicle owner which provides information on the number of crossings of the cordon and the amount billed per day.   Failure to pay results in a SEK500 (US$76) fine.  A website exists to register for automatic payments (in Swedish, but then few non-Swedish speakers will have Swedish registered vehicles).   

What has been the result so far?

Scancomark reports that the congestion tax has resulted in traffic dropping 19% on Monday 7 January (confirmed by the TrafikVerket website in Swedish), during the morning peak (0630-0830) the first full working day since the tax was introduced (1 January was a public holiday), presumably compared to the same day last year.   It was 25% down for the first three days (2-4 January).  Of course it is far too early to determine how much of this is trip suppression, time shift of trips (to outside the peaks or charging periods) and mode shift.  Hopefully, there will be some more details after a full month of operation.

The expectation has been that traffic volumes at charging points would drop by 10-15% on average, with a 4% overall reduction in traffic volumes across Gothenburg.  It was also expected that particulates and other pollutant levels would drop by around 10-15%.

Where is the money going?

The operating cost is declared to be SEK 200 million per annum (US$30.4 million) said to be over 20% of gross revenue.  The expectation is that these costs will drop to between 10-15% of gross revenue over the longer term. This implies gross revenues of around SEK 1 billion (US$152 million) per annum (2009 prices)

A surplus of SEK 14 billion (US$2.1 billion) (in 2009 prices) is to be generated over 25 years to spend on transport improvements.  This will raise part of the revenue for the "West Swedish Package" of transport improvements (the rest comes from central and local government taxes). 

The cost of the transport improvement package is SEK 34 billion (US$5.2 billion), it includes improvements to public transport (more commuter railway carriages, railway station improvements, 55km of new bus lanes and increased rail, tram and bus service frequencies), a new Göta älvbron (road and tramway bridge at SEK 2 billion), a new road tunnel under the Göta Älv River (SEK 4.2 billion), the West Link (new railway line under the city to make the main central station a through station rather than just a terminus SEK 20 billion) and a wide range of smaller road projects to improve safety, access and environmental impacts.


It is politically courageous to introduce a congestion tax in an environment of low economic growth, but I hope that it delivers net benefits to Gothenburg, both in improved mobility and reduced environmental impacts, but also with the net revenues used in a way that has widespread support across the city, particularly those paying for it.

As always, the truth will come over some months, to see what travel patterns people adopt, but I am also keen to observe the impacts on business, as this is often the key concern for central city focused congestion charge concepts, particularly given that it is an all day charge.   If business see few negative effects (and some positive ones potentially), then it will be important in promoting acceptability.  However, the political impacts will be closely observed, to see if opposition dampens if the results in reduced congestion are sustainable and see to be worth it by the public.

For me the most positive part of the system is that charges are higher and lower at different times of day, to reflect levels of congestion.  It would be good for that to evolve to different charges at individual charging points, so that charges may be lower or higher to more specifically influence traffic levels at those points.   The biggest weakness with any cordon is that it is relatively blunt, having charges that vary at individual charging points is exactly what Singapore has long had, and I expect it could improve acceptability as well as improve overall economic and environmental outcomes. Critical as well will be the process for deciding how to revise the tax rates.  Stockholm's have not changed since its system was introduced in 2007.

It is also mildly interesting to see that it is also an exclusively ANPR system (although I understand that is, in part, due to Swedish tax law that requires an image of the licence plate to enforce the tax).  The relatively high level of accuracy for this, and the lowering of the cost of this technology starts to challenge the long held advantage seen in DSRC technology for free flow tolling.

News reports on the Gothenburg congestion tax

Fewer cars on first day of congestion charges
Driver attempts to evade congestion tax by covering licence plate


  1. Dear Scott,

    Thanks for the Article, its just what I need for my project. Do you know if they had a trial run like they did in Stockholm? Are the results up for that? Also, you mentioned that it will have an effect on businesses, could you explain to me what kind of effect?


  2. No, there was no trial run. I do not know the impacts on businesses, but will do some research and see if I can get any more details.