You know that debates about transport policy in a city have matured when the debate about road pricing isn't about whether to do it, but how to do it and how much it will cost.
Copenhagen has long talked about some form of congestion charging, following on from experiences of their brethren in Stockholm and of course, London. This report (PDF) commissioned by the Forum of Municipalities for Copenhagen a few years ago, gives a graphic description of how Copenhagen congestion pricing might work. It modelled results for a variable all day cordon charge, operating in both directions as follows:
25 DKK (US$4.84) 0600-1000, 1400-1800
10 DKK (US$1.94) 0500-0600, 1000-1400, 1800-2300
10 DKK (US$1.94) 1000-1700
It is notable that weekend congestion is considered serious enough to charge for as well. The proposal was for improvements to public transport, cycling, park and ride and some selected road improvements (and major ITS infrastructure to manage traffic) to be financed in advance and paid for by the charge. The result modelled was a 23% reduction in traffic within the cordon, and 4% reduction across greater Copenhagen. More generally, the report indicates positive environmental results, and the negative effects on users are fairly minimal and evenly distributed. The report is light, but most interesting to me was the proposal to have a commercial company responsible for the system and the management of the revenue, which is likely to deliver better results to users and in terms of risk management.
The most recent debate has come about because the opposition Social Democrat and Socialist People's Party have come out campaigning for a Copenhagen congestion pricing scheme.
The Copenhagen Post reports them saying "A congestion charge in Copenhagen will raise 2.2 billion kroner a year if we charge 40 kroner during rush hour and 20 kroner outside of rush hour with the system costing 200 million kroner a year to run". 2.2 billion DKK is about US$425 million, 40 DKK about US$7.75 and 20 obviously about US$3.87.
The idea is essentially for a cordon based charge, and the centre-left Social Democrats want all of the net revenue to be used to improve public transport, or reduce public transport fares. Quite how much spare capacity Copenhagen public transport has to cope with the mode shift is unclear, particularly when such a flat and easily walked (and cycled) city may mean reduced public transport fares shift people from walking and cycling.
The Socialist People's Party is a more hardline leftwing party akin to the "Green" parties of other countries, so the two left wing parties are clearly appealing to environmentalists and non-car users in the country.
Now you'd expect criticism of the scheme from the government to be all about favouring motorists and opposing road pricing. However, it is more nuanced than that if you read responses to the proposal in the Copenhagen Post. Whilst motorist lobbyists and businesses have said road transport is already too heavily taxed in Denmark, the centre-right (leading party in government) Liberal Party slammed the proposal as being too expensive for motorists, and for putting an unnecessary barrier up in the city. It also claimed public transport couldn't cope with the mode shift, and that the charge would be "arbitrary" in terms of its effects.
However, the centre-right Social Liberal Party (which is in opposition) suggested distance based national road pricing would be preferable, by saying that:
"The brilliance of road pricing is that you can regulate how much motorists pay according to how much they drive, where they drive, when they drive and what they drive. And motorists from areas without public transport would not pay".
Now that doesn't mean Copenhagen will be getting congestion pricing anytime soon, but it does mean the debate has been moving on. The key to making progress is likely to be talking about a tradeoff between implementing national road pricing, there being a congestion "premium" for Copenhagen, and partially offsetting existing taxes on motoring.
I don't doubt that congestion pricing could make a positive difference for Copenhagen, but in a land where motoring is so highly taxed, merely taxing it more to pay for public transport is not only unlikely to get sufficient support to proceed, but also failing to deliver real benefits to motorists that do not generate the congestion and environmental problems that advocates are seeking to address.
Surely a leading candidate in Denmark is to replace very high registration and ownership taxes with a form of road pricing.