Amsterdam on the verge of introducing congestion charge for motorists

The wind is behind the GreenLeft’s move to introduce a pilot scheme, but it faces opposition

A car  parked on a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where air quality is the equivalent for residents of passively smoking 6.4 cigarettes a day. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

A car parked on a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where air quality is the equivalent for residents of passively smoking 6.4 cigarettes a day. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

 

Tiny, packed, Amsterdam is on the verge of following London and introducing a congestion charge for driving into the centre of the capital – following a political row which looks increasingly likely to be won by the anti-car lobby.

A report for the city council earlier this year tilted the debate in favour of restrictions when it showed that a high proportion of motorists – 40 per cent and 60 per cent – clogging up two of the busiest sections of the internal ring roads had no real “business” reasons for using those routes.

As a result, council officials drew up a blueprint for the congestion tax, six completely car-free zones, and more one-way systems, which they said would improve air quality immediately: currently it’s so bad that it’s the equivalent for residents of passively smoking 6.4 cigarettes a day.

But what changed the mood even more substantially was the big win by environmentally friendly GreenLeft in the city council elections in March, when it replaced centre-left D66 as the largest party, and pushed prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals into third place.

Even so, GreenLeft is not yet pushing a wholly open door. Introducing the new charges, even for Amsterdam alone, would require national legislation to be brought through parliament in The Hague – where the Liberals say they “absolutely will not co-operate”.

‘Every city should be accessible by a variety of different modes of transport,” said Liberals’ spokesman, Remco Dijkstra. “Yes, that means a delicate balance has to be struck. However, we are not in favour of achieving it by introducing a toll to drive into the heart of Amsterdam.”

Working agreement

However, what GreenLeft is now counting on is the small print in the working agreement between Amsterdam city council and the national government – and that small print allows the city to introduce “in pilot form” whatever types of transport and payment systems it deems appropriate.

“What we are talking about is introducing new facts on the ground,” said one transport researcher. “If we can bring in the congestion charge and other changes and show that they work, and that they make this little city more liveable, public opinion will do the rest.”

Despite the controversy in London, he pointed out, the effect of the charge had been positive, reducing traffic by 15 per cent and congestion – the time traffic adds to a journey – by 30 percent.

Stockholm, likewise, despite considerable opposition, introduced a charge on a trial basis in January 2006. However, a referendum held the following September produced a surprise majority in favour of retaining it – and it’s been in place ever since.

“This is about the sustainability of our capital,” said the researcher. “The public can be convinced.”