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Swedish report Swedish report
by Euro Reporter
2013-01-02 11:13:28
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Gothenburg to introduce tolls to cut traffic

Sweden's second city Gothenburg will introduce a road toll on January 1 for all motorists entering or leaving the city, similar to one already in place in the capital Stockholm. The system aimed at financing infrastructure investments, reducing greenhouse gases and cutting traffic in Gothenburg's city centre by around 15 percent, will include some 40 toll stations around the city.

A similar system introduced in Stockholm in 2007 has led to a 15-18 percent reduction of traffic in the city centre, Eva Rosman of the Swedish Transport Agency told news agency TT on Sunday. Gothenburg, located on Sweden's west coast, has some 520,000 inhabitants. Motorists entering and leaving the city Monday to Friday will pay between eight and 18 kronor ($1.2 to $2.75, 0.93 to 2.10 Euros), depending on the time of day, with an upper limit of 60 kronor a day.

The charge is to be paid between the hours of 6:00 am and 6:29 pm. The holiday month of July will be free, as are evenings and weekends. Cars with foreign license plates and emergency vehicles will be exempt. Overhead cameras will register the licence plates of cars entering or leaving city limits. Motorists can either have the amount automatically deducted from their bank account or pay a bill in some shops or by Internet. Motorists who don't pay will be fined 500 kronor. Gothenburg's city council approved the congestion charge in a vote in 2010, and it was later approved by the Swedish parliament. But many residents are opposed to the toll, and some 45,000 people have signed a petition calling for a referendum to be held on the issue.


Multiple accidents on Sweden's slippery roads

On Saturday afternoon, two people were admitted to hospital after a multiple car accident near Askersund in central Sweden. Police closed national route 50 in both directions during the rescue- and clearance operation, which lead to traffic jams. According to local duty officer, Lotta Lindblad, two cars were involved in a head-on collision during an overtaking. Another car which attempted to dodge the accident hit a fourth one. Nobody was wounded in the third and fourth cars. The two wounded people were brought to the University Hospital of Örebro.

A band of heavy snow and rain moved north across Sweden on Saturday. In the North a couple of decimetres of snow were expected. Further south, SMHI warned, freezing rain could turn roads very slippery. "There could be a lot of trouble on the roads today," said Sandra Andersson, SMHI meteorologist.

In the northern mountains there were harsh winds combined with extremely cold weather. Temperatures were expected to dip to minus 30 degree Celsisus in some parts. Rescue services in Jönköping in southern Sweden also warned of extremely slippery conditions after several vehicles drove off roads on Saturday morning, including one in which four passengers were brought to hospital by ambulance. On the west coast much of the snow had melted away on Saturday after the rainy weather there, but slush on the roads was causing trouble, with one truck skidding off the E 6 highway and blocking one of the lanes.


War on cash faces opposition

The war on cash in Sweden may be stalling. The anti-cash movement has been  vigorously promoted by major Swedish commercial banks as well as the Riksbank, the Swedish central bank. In fact, for  three of the four major Swedish banks combined, 530 of their 780 office no longer accept or pay out cash. In the case of the Nordea Bank, 200 of its 300 branches are now cashless, and three-quarters of Swedbank’s branches no longer handle cash. As Peter Borsos, a spokesman for Swedbank, freely admits, his bank is working “actively to reduce the [amount] of cash in society.” The reasons for this push toward a cashless society, of course, have nothing to do with pumping up earnings from bank card fees or, more important, freeing fractional-reserve banks from the constraints of bank runs. No, according to Borsos, the reasons are the environment, cost, and security: ”We ourselves emit 700 tons of carbon dioxide by cash transport. It costs society 11 billion per year. And cash helps robberies everywhere.” Hans Jacobson, head of Nordea Bank, argues similarly: “Our mission is to make people understand the point of cards, cards are more secure than cash.”

Fortunately, it seems that the Swedish people are not falling for the anti-cash propaganda spewed by private bankers and Riksbank officials and are resisting the trend toward a cashless economy. It is reported that last year the value of cash transactions in Sweden were 99 billion krona  which represented only a marginal decrease from ten years ago. And small shops continue to do one-third to one-half of their business in cash. Furthermore a study of bank customers satisfaction released by  the Swedish Quality Index in October 2012, indicated that the satisfaction index was pulled down among customers of Swedbank, Nordea and SEB by their policy of eliminating cash transactions at their bank branches. Even more heartening is the fact that Handelsbanken, the largest bank in Sweden, is committed to serving consumers who demand cash. As Kai Jokitulppo, head of private services at Handelsbanken, puts it:

“As long as we know that our customers are asking for cash, it is important that we as a bank [are] providing it. . . . We see places where other banks are taking other decisions, we get customers from them and positive response.” Fewer then 10 of Handelsbanken’s 461 branches currently do not handle cash and the bank’s goal is to have cash in every branch by the first quarter of 2013.


Homeschoolers again

It makes homes more comfortable with IKEA, driving safer with Volvo, and communication easier with Skype -- but when it comes to homeschooling, the country of Sweden makes parents' life as difficult as possible. Soon after losing a major legal battle to the Namdar family over the right to homeschool their children for religious reasons, the Swedish government stuck back with an appeal in the Supreme Administrative Court in an attempt to swipe that right away. Because of the political and secular climate within Sweden's public schools, Rabbi Alexander Namdar and his wife Leah (see photo [right], compliments of Lubavitch News Service) decided to home educate their children to ensure that their instruction ran parallel to their Jewish beliefs. Just weeks after an appellate judge's verdict supported the parents' right to homeschool their five children, Swedish government officials challenged the decision.

Earlier this year, the Swedish authorities threatened to fine the Namdar family each day they withheld their children from attending public school in order to instruct them from home. The Namdars then filed suit, challenging the Gothenburg municipality's decision coercing them to abide by the Swedish school law, which declares that homeschooling is only permitted in "exceptional circumstances" and never based on religious or philosophical family viewpoints. When the judge examined the exemplary education the children were receiving at home, it was found that Sweden is obliged to respect familial convictions.

But this latest appeal is no stranger to Swedes. Just a month ago the country's Social Welfare Committee, which kept Swedish homeschooler Domenic Johansson separated from his parents for more than three years, appealed a June decision that upheld the parental rights of his father and mother, Christer and Annie Johansson (left). In 2009, Swedish police seized seven-year-old Domenic after boarding a plane bound from Sweden as the family was minutes from departing to do missionary work in India. Initially, state authorities "permitted" the parents to see Dominic one hour every five weeks, but they haven't seen Dominic since December 2010.

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