As 771 European cities prepare to launch the 2006 European Mobility week, Stockholm's inhabitants must vote on a system of road tolls aimed at reducing traffic in the city centre. From 16 to 22 September 2006, European citizens will have the opportunity to enjoy a full week of events dedicated to sustainable mobility. The Car Free Day will be the highlight of the Week.

After the World Meteorological Organisation named the year 2005 "Year of Disasters", climate change has been chosen as the central theme for the 2006 edition of the Mobility Week.

The objective is to raise awareness, at national, regional and local levels, on the necessity for changes in behaviour in relation to mobility and, in particular, in relation to the use of the private car. The week also aims to initiate a longer-term debate on how urban life can become more sustainable. According to the official website, so far 771 cities are taking part in the European Mobility Week and 1,019 in the International Car Free day.

Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, explained that the the Commission fully supports Stockholm and other cities in their various endeavours to address climate change - be it via reducing speed on roads, improving public transport systems or with what she termed "environmental charging".

"The proof is in the pudding... and we can see that [road pricing] really is working," she said. Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson said in a pre-electoral speech: “I do want congestion charges in Stockholm – there are too many cars.”

But centre-right opposition leader Fredrik Reinfeldt said he believes the charges will hurt Sweden’s economy. “I will vote no,” he said, adding: “I think user fees are part of the solution to congestion problems, but the Social Democrats in Stackholm have handled this trial really badly.”

According to Rickard Wessman, spokesman for the Stockholm Moderate party (one of the four parties which make up the centre-right opposition), Stockhom’s main congestion problem is that it is lacking ring roads. “Building such roads would pretty much resolve the city’s traffic problems,” he said.

The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) supports congestion charging as “an efficient mean to limit individual transportation and its negative effects”.

UITP Secretary General Hans Rat explains: "In congested areas, the individual car-user simply does not meet the full costs of his travel. The economy as a whole, citizens' quality of life and the environment all suffer the consequences of our choking cities… In fact the cost of congestion in Europe is estimated at up to €63 billion per year."

Congestion charging, he said, can "make car-users realise what kind of costs they are creating, and make them pay a bit to cover that cost. The revenue generated can be used to provide them with better public transport."


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