March 6 (Bloomberg) -- A system designed to reduce congestion in Stockholm by charging drivers a fee to enter the city cut traffic by 25 percent in the first month of a seven- month pilot program.
The program took 100,000 cars off the roads during peak business hours in January and boosted public transit use, according to a statement from IBM Corp., which developed the test run. Ridership on Stockholm's buses and trains climbed by 40,000 a day.
``Like any large city, they're interested in reducing their traffic and improving their environment,'' said Peggy Kennelly, vice president for IBM's On Demand Innovation Services. ``People are changing their behavior.''
Drivers entering the inner city area on weekdays between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. pay 10 kronor to 20 kronor ($1.27 to $2.54). The maximum daily charge is 60 kronor.
Drivers are billed and can pay online, Kennelly said in an interview with Bloomberg News on March 3. A network of cameras photographs license plates and algorithms developed by IBM help match the cars to their human owners, she said.
The system is computer-based and works in ways similar to the human brain, she said. It fills in what it can't see clearly with numbers or letters based on characters in its database.
``It works like a human would, looking for something that's familiar,'' Kennelly said. ``It can decide if a certain line is part of the letter 'T' or a scratch on the license plate.''
The payment system is similar to those used elsewhere in Europe and in Singapore. In London, drivers pay 8 pounds ($14.03) to enter the City Center between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. That system will be expanded in 2007.
The U.S. Federal Highway Administration has spent $59 million examining systems for American cities, IBM said.
Stockholm residents will decide whether to permanently implement the fee system in a referendum in September. If approved, it will be the most extensive congestion-pricing system in the world, IBM said.
``Many cities have serious environmental issues,'' Stockholm Mayor Annika Billstrom said in a statement. ``We are now doing this trial with a modern, exciting new system which the rest of Europe and the world can learn from.''
To contact the reporter on this story:
Courtney Dentch in New York at email@example.com.
Last Updated: March 6, 2006 00:04 EST