Congestion Charge Innovators Meet in Beijing to Help Alleviate Traffic Congestion and Control Exhaust Emissions in China
On Dec 11, 2013, Energy Foundation China hosted a media conference on the topic of “International Experience on Congestion Charges & Low Emission Zones” in Beijing, providing a platform for Chinese and international experts and media representatives to exchange ideas on how to control traffic congestion and take action to solve the air quality problems caused by exhaust emissions. Participants from London, Stockholm, Milan, and Minnesota shared personal experiences on the best ways to alleviate traffic and improve air quality through the implementation of congestion charges and low emission zones in cities by providing examples from their countries.
Over the past decade, the production and sales of automobiles in China have progressed at a breathtaking speed. In 2008, China outpaced the U.S. to become the world’s leading producer of automobiles as well as its top market. This trend has driven economic development and made travel more convenient for many Chinese citizens. However, the increasing number of vehicles has also lead to more traffic and deteriorating air quality in cities. To confront these challenges, some cities have begun charging congestion or exhaust emissions fees as well as planning low emission zones.
At the event, Steve Kearns of Transport for London introduced the congestion charge complementary measures used in central London, the most congested area of the U.K. This area-based charging scheme was launched in February 2003 and over the past five years about 25% (~70,000) fewer vehicles have driven in the area every day. Further, the emission of PM10 has been cut by 7% and that of nitrogen oxide has been cut by 8%. As Mr. Kearns pointed out, the success of London’s traffic congestion charge was due to several elements, such as its well-defined policy objectives, widespread public consultations, sound public transportation alternatives, effective traffic management, and a powerful public information campaign.
Gunnar Soderholm of the Stockholm Environment and Health Administration discussed the Stockholm congestion charge, describing both its policy design and implementation effects. After Stockholm began charging congestion fees in 2007, traffic flows in the city decreased by 20% compared with 1965. Emission levels also decreased by 10-14% while air quality improved by between 2-10%. Moreover, most of the citizens of Stockholm came to strongly support the policy over time. According to Mr. Soderholm, many factors contributed to the success of the policy. First, the technology was user-friendly and provided ample instructions for the public. Second, the unexpected popularity of the policy after its initial implementation helped it win the trust of the wider public. Finally, continuous environmental monitoring reports reflected the improved air quality, defeating any rumors that it was “an ineffective policy”.
Charles Komanoff of the Nurture Nature Foundation in New York shared his experience creating a plan to implement a congestion charge in New York. According to Mr. Komanoff, New York was saddled with myriad transportation problems, including traffic jams, capital shortages at the public transportation system, and inadequate fees for transportation, among others. By comparing the 2007-2008 proposal for traffic congestion fees submitted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the 2014-2015 “Mobile New York” proposal for the adjustment of tolls, Mr. Komanoff explained how supporters of the newer policy included people from local businesses and communities rather than billionaires and mayors, which significantly encouraged the congestion fees in affluent Manhattan to be increased. The expected results from “Mobile New York” are that the speed of CBD will increase by 20% and annual net revenue will reach 1.5 billion USD, both of which are better than the 2007-2008 proposal by Mayor Bloomberg. Mr. Komanoff expects that passage of the New York State and Manhattan Capital Plan sometime from the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015.
Compared with the rest of the cases, Italy boasts a congestion charge plan that realized greater control of vehicular exhaust emissions and a more substantial decrease of major pollutants, resulting in 10% less PM10, 18% less nitrogen oxide, and 35% less CO2. The experiences of London, Stockholm, and Milan all advance the development of sophisticated vehicular technologies. For example, the sales of energy efficient vehicles skyrocketed in London, leading the city to allow congestion charge immunity for vehicles conforming to the emission standard of Europe V and 75g CO2/km instead of those for Europe V and 100g CO2/km. Moreover, green vehicles in Milan have accounted for 16.6% of all cars compared with the previous 9.6%.
The experts and media representatives present at the conference held in-depth discussions about the work done by each country. They also talked about the methods and prospects for the implementation of similar policies in China. The attendees hope that this conference will further serve the purpose of alleviating the traffic congestion and improving the air quality in China.