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Wednesday 16.01.2019 | Name days: Lida, Lidija

NP: Riga municipality plans to adopt EUR 5 entry fee to city’s centre

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUA EUR 5 entry fee to Riga’s centre may be a solution Riga municipality has picked to help solve possible traffic congestion problem that is expected to appear in 2020, when it is planned commence construction of Rail Baltica railway. Because of that, several major streets will be closed down for traffic, according to information from Nekā personīga programme.

The programme mentions that for years Riga City Council has not been able to resolve the traffic congestion problem. The situation is expected to worsen in the next two years once construction of the new railway line has commenced. Although Riga City Council says a famous Danish city architect has been asked to assist, the programme has information that the city council has decided to adopt an entry fee to Riga’s centre.

The entry fee will be EUR 5. All who cross the Cable-stayed Bridge or Stone Bridge over Daugava River or Brasa, Zemitana and other transmissions across the city’s encompassing railroad. The work group responsible for this project has discussed that this fee will deter drivers from entering Riga’s centre.

«Hundreds of thousands of vehicles enter Riga’s centre every day. Traffic congestions are an often sight on bridges and streets in the city’s centre in morning and afternoon hours. Long lines of vehicles delay arrival of public transports and pollute the air. All efforts undertaken by the municipality to relieve load off streets by encouraging drivers to instead use public transport services have all failed. Public transport services are not as convenient as private cars for them to consider this option,» the programme says.

Construction of Rail Baltica will commence in Riga’s centre in 2020. It is planned to dig rail embankment, rebuild the central rail station. With that in mind, construction work may last for two or three years. With construction work paralyzing traffic in many locations, the city council has to act to make sure it is possible to move around in the city. «Famous Scandinavian city designed Jan Gehl and his team has been asked to assist. Their objective is studying the city and preparing solutions to help relieve load off Riga’s centre and making its streets more convenient for pedestrian traffic,» NP explains.

In his interview, Riga City Council chairman Nils Ušakovs said: «Usually there are four to five ways to change it [the situation]. Reducing congestion and reducing the number of cars. Solutions include mechanical ones, when traffic is limited using traffic signs, or when access to streets is impossible because of physical obstructions, as well as reduction of parking spots or introduction of entry fees.»

‘Currently the plan is being held secret because Concord is afraid the decision regarding the entry fee might agitate voters. Still, there is not much time left until the beginning of construction of Rail Baltica. Preparations have already commenced,’ the programme says.

Although discussions regarding the entry fee have been continued since the beginning of the year, officials responsible for traffic and city development refer towards the decision as something that has been decided on a long time ago.

Riga City Council Transport Affairs Committee Chairman Vadims Baraņņiks claims he has no information that the decision for entry fee has already been made.

Acting director of Riga City Council’s Development Department Armands Krūze: «Requirements approved in 2013 already include the possible special zones for transport entry. The documents already state that it is possible to adopt an entry fee to the city. Discussions about it have been continuing since 2006. No one has expressed any refusal, and it is clear that any discussion goes. However, if we discuss charging an entry fee for driving to the city, as you suggest, it is too soon to speculate.»

The programme notes that although city council management and leading officials are hiding their intentions, it is easy enough to conclude what they want judging from the plans to build control points on streets leading to the city centre. Riga City Council’s Transport Department has announced a tender for the establishment of control points in sixteen locations. The plan detailed as part of the tender shows a restricted area from Daugava River all the way to the railway line in Riga’s centre. This restricted territory includes the historic centre, Andrejosta, Skanste Street district, Brasa and Grīziņkalns.

Acting director of Riga City Council’s Transport Department Emīls Jakrins says: «We as a department have ordered equipment for installation in multiple locations. This includes traffic flow measuring devices, air quality measuring devices, and info tables. Control points will be constructed at bridges and railway crossing points leading to Riga. It will be possible to also install car registration system to collect fees for entering the centre – similar to how it is done in Jurmala.»

The programme reports that the fact that the decision regarding an entry fee has already been made is proven by the order addressed to Šķiņķis Pētersons law firm on the development of regulations to govern collection of entry fees.

Sworn attorney Mārtiņš Pētersons, when asked by NP over the telephone if Riga City Council has put up an order for traffic regulation or entry fee for Riga and whether or not his law firm is involved in development of said regulations, said: «This matter includes legal assistance, and I cannot comment: neither on the names of my clients, nor any and all objectives given to us.»

Documents detailing introduction of an entry fee have to be very precise, so that there is no way to contest them at Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry. Currently the project has many flaws. Although the initiative includes the adoption of an entry fee in the city centre, it is clear from the plan that Spīķeri Quarter is left out. Andrejosta, where it is planned to adopt the entry fee, is not in the historic centre. It is planned that cargo trucks will not be allowed to cross Krasta Street to get to the port. This will create traffic congestion all around the historic centre, where residents and people from Bolderaja and Pieriga will gather in order to enter the city centre. Judging from the map, cars entering the city by ferry at the passenger port will automatically end up in the pay zone, NP reports.

Jānis Eglīts, parliamentary secretary to the Environment Protection Ministry, says that the ministry is very negative about this project. «It should be said that Riga is Latvia’s capital city with a full spectrum of services and everything else a capital city needs. It is also important to keep in mind that Riga’s transport system is no well-organized.»

NP believes Concord is interested in keeping this unpopular solution quiet until Saeima elections, because revealing it would impact Ušakovs’ rating. Riga’s mayor has no plans to become a candidate in Saeima elections. Still the party’s campaign relies on his reputation.

When asked if Riga City Council has discussed the EUR 5 amount, Ušakovs said: «We have, as far as I know, three weeks before elections. I am surprised the amount is EUR 5 and not EUR 15. It would be a better amount to intimidate potential voters. You can use that.»

NP: «Are the elections the time when revelations will follow? Isn’t it kept a secret?»

Ušakovs: «Again. Where do you see a secret if we publicly invite specialists, sign agreements with them, allow them to work in the open and offer proposals?»

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