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Equity & Liveability

Regarding equity, a large percentage of drivers in the county paid the congestion tax at least occasionally. During an investigated two-week period F, nearly half of all privately owned cars in Stockholm paid congestion tax at least once. However, most of them paid only small amounts. Only 4% of the county’s vehicles – which corresponds to 1.2% of the county’s residents – accumulated a total cost of SEK 200 (€20) or more during the studied two-week period. 

That small group accounted for one third of all revenues generated by privately owned vehicles. It is thus clear that the congestion charging in Stockholm has a potential for redistributing substantial resources between individuals.

But what about average effects on a group level? Did some categories of citizens (defined by f ex household type, income, or residential area) suffer “unfairly” large negative consequences from the charging scheme? To study this issue, equity effects were analyzed in terms of how different categories of inhabitants were affected with respect to direct road-user effects of the congestion tax. Direct effects include changes in travel time, costs of paid congestion tax and costs of adaptation (sacrifices in travel due to the congestion tax).1]

Looking only at the direct road-user effects – changes in travel time and increases in travel costs – all studied groups experience an economic loss (on average). Examining the level of loss for different groups on average, it was concluded that

  • Residents of the inner city and Lidingö lost about twice as much as residents of other areas
  • Households with high discretionary income paid nearly three times as much as households with low discretionary income
  • Employed people paid about three times as much congestion tax as non-employed
  • Men lost nearly twice as much as women
  • Households with children paid more congestion tax and households with two adults pay more congestion tax (per person)

Statistically, one was thus “hardest hit” by the congestion tax if one was an affluent, employed male living in a household with two adults and children in the inner city or Lidingö.

Inner city residents gained the least travel time but paid second-highest amount of congestion tax – partly because they tend to be driving opposite (out mornings, in evenings) to the direction that benefited most from reduced congestion. It is interesting to note that inner city residents were never-the-less the most positive to the tax, as described in the previous section. This indicates that those living in the inner city experienced other benefits than those that were covered by the analysis.

However, the equity effects of a congestion tax system are utterly determined by how the revenues are used. The figure below illustrates the final outcome (direct effect + revenue recycling) of three hypothetical uses of revenue for the Stockholm system: all residents in the county share the revenues equally, the revenues are used to lower taxes and the revenues are used to lower public transport fares, respectively. As can be seen from the figure the distributional effect (here by income) is determined by revenue use.

One of the set objectives for the Stockholm trial was that the “urban environment as perceived by citizens”, should be improved. Both urban environment and livability, however, are complex and diffuse concepts. It is impossible to find a common, clear-cut definition of good (improved) urban environment. Therefore, it proved difficult to confirm or reject whether the trial had met its objective in this respect. 

The official evaluation of the Stockholm trial comprised a questionnaire study relating to the perception of environmental qualities in different parts of the City. On top of the definition problems introduced above, the study was also obstructed by completely different weather conditions prevailing during baseline- (spring 2005) and trial (spring 2006) measurement periods, respectively.

However, the results indicate that the public had indeed experienced improvement for exactly those factors for which objective measurable changes could also be demonstrated; that is those that were linked to reductions in traffic. Significant positive changes were thus observed for three types of environmental quality: better pace in traffic, improved air quality and improved accessibility by car.

The same tendencies appear in interviews made with cyclists in the inner city and with children who live in the inner city. The latter group’s experience of the city environment improved clearly, and many cyclists reported that they perceive that the number of cars has reduced, and that the traffic environment was improved.

No significant effects were proven on retail or tourism during the trial. Retail within the charging zone increased by 7 %, which should be compared to a similar increase of 8 % outside the zone and also in Sweden as a whole. Disparities between different areas are most likely due to trend shifts, calendar effects or special events. An important explanation to why only marginal effects arise, is that consumer behaviour has almost not changed over the past years. The Stockholm trial was heavily criticized in advance that it would change consumers shopping patterns drastically. However, the trial showed that consumers overall did not shop less neither outside or inside the charging zone.

Consumer studies have shown that minor substitution effects occur for example for daily purchases by inner city citizens, but this effect is so small that it cannot be observed in retail turnover. Overall no effect on the household purchasing power has been observed. Regional economic calculations show that the congestion tax amount to 1 ‰ of the total disposable income in the Stockholm county per year. Consequently, the tax is assessed not to affect purchasing power and private consumption.

Road Safety

As a direct consequence of reduced traffic, road safety for motorists was also expected to improve, particularly as regards whiplash injuries. However, the trial period was all too brief to enable these changes to be measured. Evaluations of the road safety effects of the trial are therefore based on estimates and the connection between road safety and changes in traffic volumes, traffic flows and speed levels.

Research shows that road safety is mainly influenced by changes in traffic volumes and speed levels. Since traffic declined as a result of the Stockholm Trial that means that even the estimated number of accidents within the charge zone in which people were injured is lower. The size of the reduction in accidents is, of course, uncertain but based on model estimates the number of accidents where people were injured should have fallen by about 9-18%. Reduced congestion should also have led to higher speeds, resulting in an expected increase in the number of accidents where people were injured. This effect, however, is not as big as the effect of traffic reductions.

The total effect of the Stockholm Trial on road safety is undoubtedly judged to be positive since the positive effects of the traffic reduction are expected to be bigger than the negative effects caused by higher speeds.

1]Environmental and road safety effects were excluded due to lack of detailed information on how the effects were distributed