A congestion charging scheme in the northern Italian city of Milan has reduced traffic and the associated air pollution in the centre of the city – but has also demonstrated the need to obtain public acceptance for such a scheme, and for transparency in relation to revenues raised from the congestion charge.
Congestion charges for entering city centres are not new. London introduced a scheme in 2003. The northern English city of Durham has a scheme that predates even that, going back to 2002. In Stockholm, a scheme – officially a congestion tax, which is deductible against income tax – started in 2006. But there have also been a number of attempts to implement congestion charges that have failed because of political or public opposition: in Edinburgh, for example, and in New York City.
In Milan, one of Italy's busiest cities, an ECOPASS scheme was introduced in 2008. This was a charge on the most polluting vehicles entering the city centre, and was intended to persuade motorists to switch to less-polluting cars. The scheme was largely successful: the number of dirty vehicles entering the city fell dramatically, but overall vehicle numbers did not because of a general switch to cleaner cars. The congestion problem was therefore not solved.
Milan therefore staged a city referendum in June 2011 on measures to replace the ECOPASS with a more comprehensive congestion-reduction scheme. Almost 80% of voters backed the municipal authority's plans. A general congestion charge was introduced in early 2012.
The charge is €5 per day and must be paid by motorists entering the city centre between 7.30am and 7.30pm. Residents of the city centre are exempt for the first 40 entries into the zone, but must pay a reduced fee of €2 per entry thereafter. Motorists must obtain a ticket from a meter, a newsagents shop or other outlet, or via the Italian electronic Telepass system, which was developed for automatic payment of motorway tolls. The system is monitored by cameras. The city has taken care to take into account the interests of city-centre businesses. On Thursdays, for example, the charging period ends early so that people can take advantage of late shopping. There are no charges for electric and hybrid cars.
Pierfrancesco Maran, Councillor for Environment and Transport, Milan, says that because of the congestion charge “the reduction of traffic is more than 30%,” and this has resulted in lower pollution, such as a 33% cut in black carbon (soot from vehicle exhausts). A major issue, he adds, has been transparency in the use of revenues from the scheme. In 2012, the congestion charge generated revenues of €20.3 million. This has been reinvested in public transport, bicycle sharing schemes and other mobility-related infrastructure. This use of the revenues has helped make the congestion charge more publicly acceptable.
So far, says Maran, the congestion charge has not had major knock-on effects, such as increased parking around the edge of the charge zone, or a modal shift to public transport. The main effect seems to be that motorists who were driving through the city centre on their way to somewhere else now avoid it. Milan does face one significant challenge in fine-tuning the scheme, however: cracking down on non-payers. A particular problem is drivers from neighbouring countries such as France, which Milan currently does not have the ability to pursue for unpaid charges.