Panel wants car owners to pay to drive

Besides a multi-billion kroner investment in road improvement, the government’s congestion panel suggests road pricing to deal with traffic jams

Dealing with an increasing volume of traffic that saw Copenhagen motorists waste 9.3 million hours in traffic jams last year will require implementing a system that charges car owners for each kilometre they drive, a government-appointed panel of transport experts is expected to conclude later this week.

“Road pricing is the most effective tool to regulate demands on car traffic,” the Trængselskommission wrote in a report being released on Thursday, according to Politiken newspaper.

The panel will also recommend investing between 35 to 44 billion kroner to improve roads and public transport over the next ten years. Without the investments, the number of wasted hours is projected to double to 18.6 million in 2025. But even if transport capacity is increased by the amount recommended, it would only take the edge off the increase in traffic congestion, reducing the forecasted rise by about 3 million hours, the panel will report.

Sceptical motorists
Despite the Trængselskommission’s resounding support for a GPS-based system that tracks where and when cars drive, implementing it will be an uphill battle, if initial opinion polls hold true.

A Voxmeter/Ritzau survey taken this week showed 55 percent of motorists were sceptical towards plans to introduce road pricing, while only 35 percent supported it. The poll also showed that only 12 percent said it would result in them driving less.

Critics also worry that rolling out a GPS system poses technological challenges that could prove costly. Others say there are privacy concerns tied to tracking people’s driving habits.

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Harry Lahrmann, a traffic researcher from Aalborg University and a member of the panel, declined to comment on the report before it was published, but said he has been advocating road pricing for years.

“It’s not just a solution to congestion problems but to traffic in general. Motorists would be charged more in places with an efficient public transport system than they would be in places with less traffic. That would get people to drive more on motorways than on local roads.”

The ghost of the congestion charge
In February 2012, a similar plan to erect a toll ring, in order to implement a so-called congestion charge, around Copenhagen collapsed after it lost public support. Lahrmann said that given the initial lack of popular backing, supporters of road pricing would need to do a better job of explaining its benefits.

“It is our responsibility to explain that people get more mobility for less money. I think people are sceptical towards the idea of paying more, but at the same time they don’t want traffic jams,” he said.

In a road pricing system, fees vary based on the amount of traffic in a certain area. Motorists driving in a city centre during rush hour, for example, would pay the highest rate.