Anti-traffic jam fee: why we could pay more to drive

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If you want to drive through Munich, you should think carefully about when to go. Especially when he has to be on time. Then it should be worthwhile to start much earlier than the route would actually take. “Actually” means: without traffic jams.

Because a Munich without a traffic jam is like white sausage without mustard, like a dirndl that doesn’t reach below the knee, like an October without a festival: it’s just incomplete. But traffic jams are also – in contrast to the other things that the Bavarian capital also stands for – annoying and stressful. It harms the environment and the economy.

A driver stuck in a traffic jam consumes more fuel and loses time. But long queues not only cause problems for individuals, but also for the general public. The air becomes polluted, there is noise on the streets. The economy comes to a standstill when traffic stops it: for example, because delivery vans arrive too late or have to make detours.

External costs from traffic jams amount to a good 221 billion euros in the EU

According to estimates by the EU Commission from 2008, these so-called external costs amount to around 820 billion euros, just from road traffic. At least 221 billion euros of the damage is due to traffic jams.

The Munich Ifo Institute claims to have found a solution to this problem. It’s called the anti-traffic jam fee and has already been tested in London, Stockholm and Singapore. The idea is to price these external costs into the use of the road. Drivers would have to pay for it if they wanted to get on a busy street – or they could switch to public transport right away. For example, the Munich Mittlerer Ring – a 28-kilometer federal highway that is considered Germany’s most congested stretch – can be greatly relieved and the environment protected.

Would that be the first introduction of a toll on Germany’s roads? And that after the cross-border toll from Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer failed so grandly? How should commuters who cannot afford to live in the city center still pay for a fee? Does that harm the economy more than it benefits it? And: can local public transport (ÖPNV) even bear that?

Pay for driving – but not like a toll

“We specifically did not call the anti-traffic jam fee a toll,” says the lead author of the Ifo study, Oliver Falck, to “A toll is always aimed at generating revenue. The fee, however, should have a steering function. ”

In their study, the scientists propose a daily flat rate of six to ten euros. That is high enough to make drivers think about whether they really have to use the car or maybe they could take the bus and train. That would not be possible with a parking fee alone. They only hit those who do not have a residence permit or private parking space. An anti-jam fee would apply to everyone.

Paying six euros a day once would reduce the occupancy rate of the Münchner Ring by almost 23 percent. With a fee of ten euros, it is even around 30 percent.

The solution is called “earmarked”. Because two central aspects could lead to the population not accepting the fee: It is too high for low-income households and the public transport is not geared towards the fee. Therefore, the income would either have to be invested in the expansion of local public transport or paid out to low-income households.

The expansion of public transport is central – but for this the city would have to make advance payments

“In the case of public transport, it will be necessary to increase the rates and expand the routes. London, for example, did it wisely and made advance payments – so it didn’t wait for enough money to be generated, ”says Falck. “That is why we advocate not introducing the anti-traffic jam fee overnight, but rather a little later.”

A payout, however, would mean that low-income households receive a certain amount per year, which is fed from the fees. A flat rate that is independent of what it is spent on: be it for driving into town or for consumption. “That is the incentive,” says Falck. There should be no obligation to do without a car. The decision must remain individual. “

Last year, for example, a mandatory public transport ticket was checked in the Berlin Senate. “That would be going too far,” he explains. “Political measures should always be as close as possible to the problems.”

Falck: “Large automobile companies should rather fear driving bans”

So far so good. Nevertheless, such a fee will have an impact on retailers, tradespeople, suppliers – and last but not least on the car manufacturers who are particularly important for Munich as a location. Because with the hurdles for driving a car, the counter arguments for buying a car should also increase.

“Large automobile companies are more likely to fear driving bans than an anti-traffic jam fee, because it is fairly certain that something will come,” says Falck. Sweden in particular is a pioneer. There are driving bans for diesel vehicles in a few cities, the city toll is also a model. And the anti-traffic jam fee from Stockholm anyway.

Another example from Stockholm shows that suppliers and craftsmen could even benefit because the streets are freer. They were able to reduce their travel times by 20 percent and thus complete more jobs. They could even emerge as “net winners”. And if not, they would have the option of passing the costs on to customers.

Even inner cities should not become extinct, as experience from other cities has shown. On the contrary: there were businesses that would have pulled out of the center. But traffic noise and stress would have been reduced. It has become more pleasant to go to town.

So it sounds like an optimal solution. One question, however, remains open: how high the income will be and how much the city will have to make upfront in order to expand local public transport. How long it will take for these revenues to come back in. “We tended to hide the income side and focused on the economic impact,” says Falck.

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