February 7, 2017

Less Car Congestion, Less Asthma in Children

Nala Rogers writing in In Science notes that Stockholm Sweden was one of the cities that instituted “congestion pricing” by scanning license plates as cars enter the “congestion pricing zone”. Each trip costs around $ 3.40 in Canadian dollars. First trialed in 2006, the pricing became permanent in 2007.
Stockholm’s road pricing scheme not only made streets less vehicular and enabled cars to commute more easily, asthma attacks in children were significantly reduced by approximately 45 per cent.

Researchers compared health and environmental data from Stockholm with over 100 other cities that did not have congestion fees. The researchers tracked the pollutant levels and also tracked the number of children sent to hospital from asthma attacks. Had Stockholm not introduced congestion fees,  “it would have continued to experience the same worsening asthma and pollution levels as other Swedish cities. This assumption allowed the team to project what would have happened in Stockholm without the fees, and compare those estimates to what actually happened.”

If Stockholm had not introduced congestion pricing “its air would have been five to ten percent more polluted between 2006 and 2010, and young children would have suffered 45 percent more asthma attacks.”  While benefits were 12 per cent during the initial trial period of congestion prices, they increased to 45 per cent over the cumulative years.

“We are looking at an area that has much lower levels [of pollution] than the current [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] standards, and we are reducing those levels by a little bit,” said Johns Hopkins economist Emila Simeonova, who presented the research at the American Economics Association meeting in Chicago in January. “Yet we see these vast changes in the health status of children.”

Sweden does use more diesel vehicles which could also partially account for the asthma rates seen in other Swedish towns. The study does show the public benefit and cleaner air resulting in congestion pricing that could be of interest to North American cities.


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  1. Interesting. But of course anything that reduces the number of cars tends to reduce pollution levels – not just the congestion charges that seem so popular with the upper middle class.
    Building a network of bus lanes and protected bike lanes funded by gas taxes would have a similar effect on air pollution, without the corrosive social effects congestion charges would likely have in an extremely unequal society like Canada.

    1. Not if you use the congestion pricing to fund public transit alternatives, which tends to benefit the poor more than the rich. Its a great way to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, improve the environment and improve our cities.

  2. In Copenhagen, they pondered a central ring type of road pricing. The people outside the proposed ring reacted very negatively. So the government came up with a carrot approach – namely building a network of cycling highways from the suburbs to the city centre. This encouraged so many people to cycle that motor vehicle congestion was reduced. Norway is spending over $1 billion to do the same in many of their cities. Why not here?

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  4. It’s necessary to note that “childhood” asthma is in fact lifetime asthma and evolves to be a lifetime dependency on the public healthcare system at more intense levels. The latest asthma drug under trial here costs $2,000 per monthly injection and is currently not covered by BC Pharmacare or Pacific Blue Cross. The alternative is steroids and antibiotics to fight the inevitable pneumonia that accompanies this chronic condition.
    It is not children’s fault that they are born in places like Hamilton during its steelmaking heyday, or that the arterials and freeways (and particulate pollution) are funded without question by senior governments while clean electric transit and planned walkable neighbourhoods have to fight all the way to inception, and then often beyond.
    I would caution the people of Ladner, Richmond and Delta that they can expect their childhood rates of asthma to spike in the years after completion of the BC Libs freeway madness on Massey.

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