Milan targets smog with road pollution toll

Milan is to follow in London's footsteps and introduce a congestion charge in an attempt to tackle severe air pollution and traffic jams, as road pricing measures are branded a worldwide environmental success.

Hundreds of thousands visitors driving into the city daily will pay a variable toll of around €2, adjusted to reflect how polluting a vehicle is.

The toll will apply on a test basis from the beginning of 2007, after Milan’s new centre-right mayor Letizia Moratti finally gave the controversial plan the go-ahead.

Plans to introduce a C-charge in Italy’s exonomic powerhouse were slow to take off as Ms Moratti’s predecessor, Gabriele Albertini, faced opposition based on the economic argument that the charge would stop visitors from travelling into Milan.

Pollution control is a strong argument in Milan, prone to severe smog as high emissions from industry, heating and coal-burning plants are trapped by the mountains surrounding the Po river valley where the city is located.

Environmentalists welcomed the plans, while the residents of Milan’s suburbs continue to oppose them.

London’s own toll stands at a much higher £8 paid to enter the central “congestion charge zone,” which is set to grow substantially with the inclusion of the districts of Westminster, Kensington, and Chelsea with its infamous SUVs. Residents are not exempt, although they do benefit from a 90% discount.

Although London is perhaps the world’s best known city charging for entry into its central zone, it is just one of a number of cities employing the policy – and more are considering the measure as reports of the success of existing schemes stream in.

Singapore, Stockholm Toronto and Oregon, US all successfully introduced congestion charging and have seen significant drops in traffic. Having analysed a wide range of road pricing schemes, the UK’s Commission for Integrated Transport found that the policy was bringing real successes and gaining in popularity.

As it published the Pricing Review at the beginning of the summer, CfIT’s Paul Godier said: “There are now ‘live’ road pricing schemes on every continent of the world. The evidence suggests that these have been very successful and, to date, no scheme has had to be withdrawn prematurely once it has been launched.”

“The message is clear: more and more governments around the world are seeing the logic of using road pricing as the best way of tackling congestion, environmental concerns and transport funding.”

Milan may be hoping to reproduce the fall in traffic jams experienced in London, where congestion fell an average of 26% since the Mayor introduced the charge in February 2003.

Milan’s authorities are certainly also hoping to benefit from improved air quality, which in London is “apparent” but not easily quantified due to “favourable ‘background’ trends,” according to the latest data from Transport for London.

Milan also plans to spend the revenue generated from the toll on improving public transport, as was done in London, where the scheme generated the sizeable sum of £122m in 2005/6, largely used to improve bus services.

Goska Romanowicz

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