A few weeks ago, as cyclists and pedestrians passed a certain point on the main street in the town of Lillestrøm, Norway, they were pulled over by local officials—not to be ticketed or warned about wearing a bike helmet, but to be handed cash.
The town was experimenting with a "reverse toll": Everyone commuting without a car was given a 100 kroner bill, or about $15.
"The reverse toll points out an important fact—that getting people to walk and cycle is profitable for the society," says Lillestrøm mayor Ole Jacob Flætene. "It is beneficial for our health, for the environment, and for the transport system."
Research from the country's national health agency shows that active transportation saves the Norwegian government about $8 for every kilometer a pedestrian walks, and about $4 per kilometer traveled by bike.
For the average trip, the savings add up to roughly the amount paid by the reverse toll, and that was the point the project wanted to make to citizens—so they'll be more likely to support new improvements to infrastructure like bike lanes.
The town, which has been voted the best cycling town in the country three different times, has already worked hard to develop a network of bike lanes. This year, they launched a new plan to increase walking. "There is a strict focus on developing a dense and diverse city that makes walking and cycling the natural choice of transport," Flætene says.
The town's transportation strategy is motivated as much by the climate as health; they're also building a full network of charging stations for hydrogen cars, and in the process of switching over to a zero-emission government fleet.
The reverse toll only lasted a couple of hours. "This was a short campaign...hopefully it contributes to a change in in how we organize transport in our cities," Flætene says.
Here's hoping it serves as inspiration for cities like New York, where police have been criticized for ticketing cyclists more often than drivers, or London, where police pulled over cyclists to tell them to wear brighter clothing after a series of fatal crashes last year. More cities should focus on telling active commuters what they're doing right.