Smart infrastructure ideas we can use: Congestion pricing

Posted on May 1, 2009  /  0 Comments

Now that the battle over ICTs is almost won, we should start thinking about how it can help improve infrastructures, such as transport and energy. The NYT has a fascinating overview, but congestion pricing made possible by ICTs is what caught my eye the most. Perhaps because I had written about it as a solution to chronic congestion in Colombo and continue to be deeply interested in transport issues.

In 2006, Stockholm experimented with congestion pricing, charging cars up to $4 to enter the downtown area, depending on the time of day. The cars were monitored with RFID cards and webcams that photographed license plate numbers. Drivers had to pay within two weeks or faced penalties, but I.B.M. linked the driver data to 400 convenience stores in the city to make payment easier.

Within a few weeks, the impact in Stockholm was evident, and it has proved permanent. Car traffic in downtown Stockholm has been reduced by 20 percent, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped 12 percent, and the city’s public transport system has added 40,000 daily riders, I.B.M. said. The webcams accurately read license plates, even on snowy days, more than 95 percent of the time. So the RFID tags are no longer in use. After expenses, the smart traffic system generates $80 million a year for the city.

Stockholm is a city in a Scandinavian country with a long environmental tradition, in a socially democratic nation. Yet even in Stockholm, there were complaints initially. The city also took the risk of installing the entire system, calling it a trial, and then having residents vote on it seven months later, after the benefits were apparent.

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