What can Cambridge learn from Gothenburg’s congestion charge?

Gothenburg began charging motorists to enter and pass through the city in 2013.

Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, is surrounded by 38 sets of cameras, quietly raking in around £70 million a year in taxes. A decade after Gothenburg introduced its congestion charge, what has it meant for both city dwellers and British cities like Cambridge to consider similar plans?

Bernadette Johansson feels like she is being punished.

Her husband, Lars-Gunnar, wants more carrot and less stick.

They are discussing Gothenburg’s congestion charge, a system that still attracts criticism 10 years later.

“I think it’s great that cities are thinking about the environment, but we can’t be punished all the time,” says Bernadette, sitting in her kitchen overlooking a lake in the countryside about 30 minutes from the city center. .

Sometimes, “he has no choice” but to drive into the city because public transportation is neither cheaper nor more convenient, Bernadette says.

bernard johanson

Bernadette’s message to Cambridge is to get the infrastructure right to offer drivers a viable alternative.

Bernadette, 69, who moved to Sweden from her Essex home 35 years ago, added: “I have to go to hospital visits, dentist visits, all that sort of thing.

“I can’t spend four or five hours [on buses] get to an appointment with the dentist or the hospital.

“I think it’s unfair,” she says. “I think people are being punished. They’re not making it easy for people.” [who drive their own, rather than company, cars] to enter the city.

Lars-Gunnar served as a Gothenburg police officer for 44 years.

He says he supports environmental issues “but to me it’s a way for the government to get some money.”

“I feel sorry for the shop owners inside [the charging zone] And they’re struggling a bit because people choose to go to the places where they can park for free and there are no charges.”

How do Cambridge and Gothenburg compare?

congestion charge sign

congestion charge sign

  • Population: Cambridge is home to 146,000 people compared to Gothenburg’s 588,000.

  • congestion charge: Cambridge is considering a daily flat rate of £5 for cars, £10 for vans and £50 for HGVs between 07:00 and 19:00 Monday to Friday. Prices in Gothenburg range from around 70p off-peak to £1.75 at peak times, between 06:00 and 18:29 Monday to Friday. There is a maximum daily charge of £4.70

  • Where will the money go? Cambridge City Council hopes to raise £50m a year to improve the bus network and walking and cycling facilities. The Gothenburg system generates £70m a year which goes towards infrastructure projects.

  • Impact: Cambridge expects to reduce congestion by 50%. Gothenburg says congestion has been reduced by 10-15%

If this all sounds familiar, it could be because similar fears have been raised over proposals for Cambridge’s Sustainable Travel Zone or the congestion charge, which could see similar cameras on city streets aiming to raise £50. million pounds sterling a year for buses, bicycles and pedestrians. improvements

What would the Johanssons write on a postcard to Cambridge?

“To have the infrastructure right, think about the private person, think about retirees, and make it attractive and viable for people to come to the city,” says Bernadette.

For her husband, the congestion charge “definitely is a stick” and “would like to see a carrot instead.”

Cambridge, he says, should “create something that is a big carrot for people to use public transport and avoid paying congestion charges.”

A tram in Gothenburg

Public transportation use increased 8% the year after the charge began and has been rising ever since

Another lesson from Gothenburg for Cambridge is how persistently unpopular the prosecution has been.

Even in Greta Thunberg’s home country and in a city with a developed public transportation network, including trams that glide through the suburbs and into the center, most have never endured congestion charging here.

In a 2014 referendum, held a year after its introduction, 57% opposed it.

In an almost dignified twist on the Scandinavian drama, officials said the referendum was advisory only and stood by.

A public opinion tracker from the SOM Institutet at the University of Gothenburg has consistently shown that he has a negative approval rating.

Theo Papaioannou

Theo Papaioannou co-founded and led a political party that campaigned against the congestion charge

Ten years ago, Theo Papaioannou, now 47, was instrumental in putting pressure on the authorities to hold the referendum.

He co-founded and led the Vägvalet political party, established to fight the prosecution.

“It has become an unlimited source of revenue for the municipality with no consequences if something goes wrong,” he says, standing within sight of City Hall, where he held a city council seat for eight years.

“Everything we said 10 years ago, 15 years ago is happening right now.”

It describes the charge as “unfair spending” that drivers “are really angry about.”

“I think they see it as an additional expense that they don’t really need to pay to be honest,” he says. “It’s like a penalty for going to and from your job or taking your children to school.”

His main concern, he says, is about the “democratic process, that they didn’t make the democratic process much better and inform the citizens” about the accusation.

Addressing those in Cambridge who want to stop the congestion charging schemes, he says: “I would write to say that… if you want to get to the ear of the politician, you have to start very quickly now and start creating an opinion about it.

“It is very difficult when you are from outside [trying to get] inward, but they need to work hard to get the attention of politicians.

“You have to protest very loudly when you are outside the political system.”

But not everyone you come across in the city is charging anti-congestion.

Erica Abrahamsson

Erica Abrahamsson says the congestion charge is a good way for the city to raise money

Erica Abrahamsson, 21, says some people avoid driving because of the load.

“But actually I think that’s pretty good,” he says, “because we have really good trams and buses.”

“Usually I just take the bus. Gothenburg is quite big, but buses go everywhere.

“I feel like they need to get the money somewhere, so I think it’s a good way to get it. I think it’s better to cash here where we have a better alternative.”

Madelen Karlson, 47, agrees.

I think it’s okay. It’s good that we can help,” she says.

Gothenburg’s “congestion tax” is part of the West Sweden Agreement, a pact agreed in 2009 between the national government and regional authorities.

It provided 34 billion Swedish kronor (£2.66 billion) for infrastructure projects, including a new bridge over the Göta älv river and a rail tunnel under the city, known as the West Link. The congestion charge is due to deliver some 14 billion Swedish kronor (1.1 billion pounds sterling) of the funds.

In addition to raising money, city officials say that since it began in 2013, traffic flow has decreased by 10-15%. The use of public transport increased by 8% in the first year and has been increasing ever since.

Viktor Hultgren, 38, oversees the congestion charge for the city authorities.

He says a 10% reduction in traffic “maybe… doesn’t sound like much, but it has a clear impact on congestion.”

He admits that the city would not have the position if it did not bring money to the city.

“I think that was the main goal in constructing these charges,” he says.

But his advice for Cambridge is to focus “less on money and more on congestion.”

“I think you should try to see where you have congestion problems and make a congestion charging system that addresses these problems rather than [raising] income,” he says.

“I think public acceptance would be higher if you could see more clearly what impact the charge has on congestion.

“I think some people see congestion charging as a way to make money, they don’t see the benefits of this system. It has clear benefits and it’s hard for some people to see.”

Thomas Sterner

Thomas Sterner of the University of Gothenburg says it is “surprising and groundbreaking” that Cambridge is considering a congestion charge

For Thomas Sterner, an environmental economist at the University of Gothenburg, it is “surprising and pioneering” that a “relatively small city like Cambridge” is considering a congestion charge “before some of the bigger ones like Manchester or Liverpool” have established their own.

“I think it needs to be thought through carefully and combined with policies that really make it easy to cycle and flexible public transport,” he says.

“Economists have generally thought more about efficiency, which is also important, but equity is often the most important thing when it comes to public acceptance.

When asked what his postcard from Cambridge, where he spent a sabbatical in the 1980s, might include, he reflects for a moment and says, “I think I’d write a letter because this is pretty complicated.”

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