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In Sweden, congestion charges are classified as ”tax” rather than ”fee”. However, this legislation was not in place when the implementation process for the trial started. Therefore in the initial process, the division of roles and responsibilities was not formally established and consequently neither the functional requirements of the system depending on whether the charge was a state tax or a local fee.
In 2003 an inquiry into congestion charging found that congestion charges had to be collected as a state tax, as Swedish law says that a charge can only be levied when the payer receives something in return. Due to the fact that the payment only provided the right to use already existing infrastructure, the congestion charge was considered to be a tax. Further, as a municipal authority is not permitted to tax anyone other than its own inhabitants, the congestion tax had to be made a state tax. Congestion charges were initiated by the local municipality, but formal decisions were primarily made by the Parliament.
In 2004, Parliament issued the Congestion Tax Act. As a result, the responsibility for procurement and administration of the congestion tax was transferred from the City to the Road Administration. Several alterations had to be made throughout the process of designing the business system.
The procurement of the technical system was subjected to legal investigation. This basically concerned two issues:
The case was tried by the Stockholm County Administrative Court, the Administrative Court of Appeal and the Supreme Administrative Court during the summer and autumn of 2004 and continued into early 2005. On 30 March 2005 the Supreme Administrative Court decided to discontinue further hearings. This meant that the verdict previously issued by the Administrative Court of Appeal, i.e., that the procurement conducted by the SRA was correct, then came into force.
The preparations for the full-scale trial resumed immediately in April 2005. At that time the work had been at a standstill for about two months as a result of the legal proceedings as well as earlier standstills due to appeals. In conjunction with this, the Government decided that 3 January 2006 was the date on which the trial period would begin resulting in a total trial period of only seven months.
Local interest vs. regional
Different kinds of charging schemes have been discussed in Stockholm over the years. The fall of the so called Dennis agreement in the 1990’s illustrates the difficulties in securing broad and stable political agreements on controversial traffic issues such as congestion charging in the Stockholm region.48 A contributing factor is also that the political majority in Stockholm often switches which undermines the pursuit of long-term issues.
The Stockholm congestion charging trial was clearly defined as an issue for the municipality of Stockholm even though the whole region was very much concerned.48
There was a lot of opposition from the surrounding municipalities concerning this boundary of consent. Consequently many surrounding municipalities decided to hold their own referendums, however these were not given the same formal status as the referendum in Stockholm city.
Low initial public acceptance
When the political decision was taken to conduct a trial, public opinion was predominantly negative to the introduction of charges. (Further described in section 5.4.) Also the amount of media space regarding the future congestion charging trial was immense, often conveying a somewhat negative picture. From this perspective, arranging referendums regarding controversial issues like congestion charging is a rather risky political strategy.
National political agreement
The origin of congestion charges in Stockholm was somewhat different than in London with one strong political advocate in Mayor Livingstone. The Mayor of Stockholm had in fact made an electoral promise not to implement road charging. However, in order to form a national government in 2002 the Socialist party had to align with the Left and the Green parties. The Green Party held the balance of power at the national and the local levels.
One of the demands from the Green party was to introduce congestion charges in Stockholm. The negotiated deal between the national parties was to carry out a full scale charging trial, which in turn the leading party in Stockholm was forced to accept. In June 2003 the Stockholm city council passed a decision to conduct a trial implementation of environmental charges in the Stockholm inner city zone. It was also decided that the trial should end before the next election.
Further, the existence of the successful forerunner case in London should not be under estimated in contributing to political courage in the Stockholm case.
Trial and post referendum approach
The trial approach in combination with a post referendum was an important political strategy in trying to turn public opposition into support and avoid conflict48. The Mayor of Stockholm argued that it was important for citizens to experience the charging system and thereby form a grounded opinion before voting.
A referendum on the permanent implementation of congestion charges in the City of Stockholm was held in conjunction with the general elections on the 17 September 2006. Following an overall ”yes” from the citizens of Stockholm (51,3%) but an overall ”no” from the surrounding municipalities (60,2 %) the new government decided to install the congestion tax on a permanent basis.
If the referendum had been held in advance, it is quite likely that the result would have been as in Edinburgh.1]
Extensive communication efforts
Parallel to the technical implementation, the Swedish Road Administration conducted extensive communication efforts. The idea was that if drivers were well-informed, the flow of traffic at the control points would not be disrupted, Customer Services would not be overwhelmed by calls and in the end a reliable collection of the congestion tax would be ensured. The SRA strategy for achieving this was to communicate intensively while at the same time keeping a low neutral profile. The Swedish Road Administration did not engage in a debate on why congestion tax was introduced but rather on how the system would work and how to pay.
In the early stages of the project, the focus was on direct communication in the form of meetings, flyers and letters. Late in the autumn of 2005 a letter was sent to all vehicle owners in Sweden with information about the full-scale trial in Stockholm. Several activities were arranged in shopping centres and malls, such as at the Stockholm Central Railway Station and at public transport nodes. Meetings were initially also arranged for those living and working close to the control points. As the day for launching the system drew closer, the communication became more public and intensive.
Contact with the media was important during the entire project period and helped spread information to individuals and decision makers.
Balanced and measurable goals
The design of the evaluation appears as crucial from an acceptance point of view.48 The city of Stockholm was responsible for the extensive evaluation programme during the trial. Inspired by London, the strategy was to present traffic data initially at press conferences (go-live for 10 days) as well as presenting a full evaluation report at the end of the trial. According to polls in Stockholm, people became more positive throughout the trial as they experienced the obvious effects.
As basis for an evaluation programme, the importance of identifying balanced and measurable goals must not be underestimated when planning and designing the scheme.
1] K.Isaksson and T. Richardson, paper 2007, Building legitimacy for risky policies: managing deliberation on the frontline.
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