In an admitted move to stall the government’s proposed congestion charge on vehicles entering and leaving Copenhagen, a unified opposition is now demanding a more comprehensive study of its environmental impact on the city and surrounding towns.
“It’s no secret that we’re going to do everything in our power to stop the proposed congestion charge. But the very least one should insist upon is a thorough report on its consequences. And on that point the government has seriously broken with protocol,” Venstre's traffic spokesperson, Kristian Pihl Lorentzen, told Politiken newspaper.
Venstre, Konservative, Danske Folkeparti and Liberal Alliance are now demanding an official Environmental Impact Assessment on the effects of the proposed toll ring, as a preliminary groundwork for its presentation to parliament for a vote. Such studies typically takes three to four months to finish.
In addition, on Tuesday, Hans Toft (Konservative), the mayor of Gentofte council, which borders Copenhagen and the proposed ring, announced that his town was filing a legal challenge against the government for failing to provide the environmental study with its proposal.
The government countered that an Environmental Impact Assessment would be redundant, as the proposal is based on several alternative environmental impact studies, including a traffic study by the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), an air-pollution study by Aarhus University and an environmental impact study by the state roads and highways authority, Vejdirektoratet.
The proposal was produced in collaboration with Tetraplan, a consulting firm specialising in strategic traffic and transportation solutions for municipalities. Moreover, the proposal draws upon documented results from cities all over the world, including the Scandinavian cities Stockholm and Oslo, which have congestion charges.
“Congestion charges are well-proven technology with good results that have been documented by a bunch of cities,” the transportation minister, Henrik Dam Kristensen (Socialdemokraterne), told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
However, Kristensen admitted that the government decided to pursue the solution of a congestion charge without investigating other alternatives, such as GPS-based roadpricing – a newer strategy that some transportation experts believe shows excellent functional potential, and which is being rolled out for lorry traffic this year.
Niels Buus Kristensen, who heads up DTU's transport studies department, said the government ought to study all the possibilities before implementing a congestion charge. “But I certainly understand the political desire to do something quickly about the traffic problems – and it would be risky to go forward with the unproven GPS-based roadpricing technology,” he told Jyllands-Posten.
The government is expected to put its finalised proposal up for parliamentary vote in a matter of weeks. But with the opposition moving to block the project, it especially needs the support of Enhedslisten, its far-left ally. And, for the time being, Enhedslisten is cool on the plan.
“As a starting point, we’re against the proposal. But we’ll have to look at the concrete details [of the finalised proposal],” Enhedslisten’s group chairman Per Clausen told Politiken.
Clausen added that the lack of an official Environmental Impact Assessment did not worry him.
“I’ve read a whole bunch of Environmental Impact Assessments and they certainly do not give you any special guarantee of an environmentally friendly solution,” Clausen said. “The only thing you can say about an Environmental Impact Assessment is that it delays the process. But that’s exactly what Venstre is after,” he added.