System eases traffic s toll on Stockholm

Traffic in Sweden's capital has been reduced by 25 percent through a new road toll system that uses radio frequency identification transponders and cameras, according to the prime contractor that designed, implemented and is operating the system.

In the first month of about a seven-month trial, officials from IBM said 100,000 vehicles have been removed from Stockholm's roads during peak business hours, while, at the same time, daily mass transit riders has increased by 40,000. City officials had increased the capacity of the mass transit system in anticipation of more users.

Since January 3, Stockholm has been testing a congestion or value pricing system, which is an approach to discourage motorists from making trips during certain times into a city as a way to reduce vehicle traffic and pollution. Similar systems are in place in London and Singapore.

Motorists entering and leaving Stockholm between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday are charged fees ranging from $1.30 to $2.55 (10 to 20 Swedish kronors) depending on the time, but a maximum charge of $7.60 (or 60 kronor) per day. However, taxis, foreign-registered cars and environmentally friendly vehicles are exempt from the system.

Motorists can equip their vehicles with a RFID transponder that automatically deducts the appropriate fee at any of the 18 entry points into the city, similar to the electronic toll collection system in this nation, Todd Ramsey, general manager of IBM's Global Government Industry, said. In Stockholm, those 18 entry points have 39 charging points or stations.

But the system also uses sophisticated cameras along city routes if a motorist doesn't have a transponder. In that case, a car's license plate is photographed, matched to the registered owner in the motor vehicle database and then billed. Ramsey said the system has multiple cameras that can photograph various angles of a license plate and a vehicle's make and model to ensure accuracy and correct billing.

'The license plate recognition though requires you to, after the fact, pay either on the Internet or through a couple of other places you can go see what your records are,' he said.

In Singapore's systems, officials there require vehicle to be equipped with RFID transponders or they wont' be allowed into the main business district, Ramsey said. London's system only uses cameras to identify and bill drivers. In both those cities, traffic congestion has been reduced.

He also said the system did not cost city officials any money and IBM recoups a percentage of what motorists are charged. After the trial period ends this summer, Stockholm's residents will vote in a non-binding referendum on whether to make the toll system permanent, but the city council there has the final word, he said.

While they sound like good ideas, such systems aren't always welcome. In Edinburgh, Scotland, a congestion pricing system was defeated there a year ago following a referendum.

In the United States, motorists in certain cities and regions pay tolls for access to certain highways and roads, money that is largely used to fund upkeep of the roads. But Ramsey said there has been some interest in using similar congestion pricing systems.

'In general, we've seen a fair number of articles on the west coast ' California, Oregon and state of Washington ' where people are ' interested in changing the traffic patterns,' he said. 'They'd like to shift to other modes of transportation and they like to shift the charges to the people who are using it in lieu of raising the gas tax. But there's no legislature considering authorizing doing this, at this point.'

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