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Government eyes congestion fees in Finland's cities

One-fifth of the EU's carbon emissions come from road traffic, and the environment minister wants to change that.

Liikennettä E20-moottoritiellä Tukholmassa
Drivers heading into and out of Stockholm, Sweden pay between one to two euros in each direction during busy commuter hours on weekdays. Image: Mauritz Antin / EPA

The Finnish government has plans to reduce carbon emissions by allowing urban municipalities to charge road congestion fees, according to Finland's Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Krista Mikkonen.

Currently, exceptional road or congestion tolls aren't legal in Finland, but Mikkonen said the recently-elected government plans to change that.

"The government programme states that urban areas should be able to charge fees if they wish," Mikkonen, a Greens party member, said.

Preparation of a bill on the matter is set to be carried out by various ministries, but the minister was unable to say when it would be ready.

However, she emphasised that government needs to find ways to reduce emissions, in light of the continuing rise in traffic volumes as well as emissions.

One-fifth of all carbon emissions in the EU were generated by vehicular traffic, according to the European Environment Agency.

In Finland, road transport accounts for about 17 percent of emissions, with nine percent coming from passenger transport, seven percent from road freight and the remaining nine percent from personal vehicle traffic, according to Statistics Finalnd and the Finnish Environment Institute Syke.

Finland has pledged to halve the 2005 emissions levels by the year 2030 - and by 2045, all of the country's vehicles should be emissions-free.

Story continues after photo.

Ympäristö- ja ilmastoministeri Krista Mikkonen
Finland's Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Krista Mikkonen. Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

Mikkonen noted that congestion fees implemented in Sweden in recent years have played a major role in cutting emissions.

"Congestion has decreased, the popularity of public transport has increased and the air quality has improved," she said.

Sweden's capital Stockholm, for example, charges fees for vehicles driving in and out of the city on weekdays during the hours of 6:30 am - 6:29 pm. Drivers are charged between one to two euros for each passage in or out of the city, depending on the time of day. The total of fees drivers must pay each day is a maximum of around six euros, according to the city's public transportation system.

Helsinki's commuters

Up to 40 percent of the vehicles on Helsinki roads on any given day arrive from outside the city limits.

Some people from just outside of the Helsinki area - like the mayor of Kirkkonummi, Tarmo Aarnio - is not pleased with the idea of congestion fees. The rural seaside community lies on the western border of the greater Helsinki region and over the decades has become a commuter suburb to the city.

Aarnio said that the implementation of congestion fees would weaken the competitiveness of regions around the capital, saying that travelling by car is essential to many residents in the area.

Meanwhile, opposition MP Heikki Vestman of the National Coalition Party said that congestion fees would hurt commuters on low incomes.

He said it would also hurt the vitality of the entire Uusimaa region, saying the fees would affect the overall attractiveness of living in the area.

The joint authority of Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) has reported that implementing congestion fees would increase the costs for drivers who regularly commute into the city by 700-1000 euros per year.

Where should the fees go?

The joint authority's chair, Suvi Rihtniemi, said congestion fees would likely have a broader impact than simply lowering carbon emissions.

"In the background [implementing congestion fees] would primarily result in a reduction of emissions, but it would also cause a reduction in traffic, which would also result a reduction in a road investments funding,"

In any case, Rihtniemi said that funds from any eventual tolls should go towards road infrastructure investments.

"The money should not flow to the state's bottomless treasury," she said.

Minister Mikkonen said getting more people to use public transport would indirectly reduce the environmental costs of the use of vehicles, but also reduce the costs of owning a car. She suggested that the congestion fee funds could be directed towards further developing public transportation systems.

"People would then have real options from which to choose," Mikkonen said, noting that there is still a good deal of consideration to be done before any action is taken.

Edited 9 July 2019 at 10:57 am to clarify that one-fifth of carbon emissions in the EU were generated by vehicular traffic was according to the European Environment Agency, and added details about Finland's vehicle traffic emissions.

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