IBM helps Stockholm cut traffic, improve mass transit use

A pilot traffic congestion and pricing system designed and implemented by IBM Corp. has helped Stockholm, Sweden, remove 100,000 vehicles from its roads during peak business hours.

In an effort to reduce traffic on its roadways during the work day, Stockholm is testing a system that charges vehicles entering and leaving the city between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. City officials can change the rates charged at different times of day to further discourage travel during peak times.

Early results from the pilot program reveal that the system cut traffic by 25 percent and increased the use of mass transit by 40,000 people per day, the Armonk, N.Y., company said.

After the pilot program runs for seven months, an evaluation will be issued comparing before and after results of the impact on traffic, public transportation, local business and the environment. Residents will then vote on full implementation.

IBM officials declined to release the value of the contract.

IBM's system uses cameras positioned along city roadways to photograph and record cars' license plate numbers. The system also uses radio-frequency identification transponders, which residents can place in their cars, that interact with stations positioned along roads.

Cars without RFID transponders are photographed, and their license plate numbers are identified. If the number is identified immediately, it is recorded in the system and stored for future processing. If the number is not readable, the picture is moved to a central server where algorithms are run to identify it.

The system is also used to provide evidence to support enforcement of non-payers.

Once a vehicle's identification is established and entered into the database, users are then charged when entering or leaving the payment zone. The amount billed is based on the time of day, with fares highest during peak rush hours. A maximum charge per day is also established.

The technology applied in IBM's system allows the city to vary the charge throughout the day. Drivers also can have direct debit accounts.

The Swedish National Road Administration, in partnership with Stockholm, is managing the congestion charging system. IBM serves as the contractor in charge of design, development and operation.

New York officials pointed to IBM's results in Stockholm as proof that traffic can be reduced without harming the local economy, said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York, an advocacy group that includes the city's chamber of commerce.

"The Stockholm experiment is clearly improving conditions for businesses, employees, residents and tourists," Wylde said. "New York City, which faces increasing congestion, can now look to the models of both Stockholm and London to help inform future plans for traffic management."

IBM has about 319,000 employees and annual sales of $96.5 billion in fiscal 2004. Big Blue ranks No. 14 on Washington Technology's 2005 Top 100 list of federal prime contractors.

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