Thursday, June 12, 2008

Driving in Stockholm, Sweden

I like to drive. It was reaffirmed today as I was returning from a conference I was at. It was nice to get in my beat up old Saab and drive for 45 minutes. My antennae is being dumb (please see, Saab: beat up, above) so I just stuck my headphones in and listened to my iPod. And life was good.

It’s a beautiful thing being able to drive. To escape. To get into your car without having to sharpen your elbows for the crowds in Central Station. To sit by yourself and not next to the smelly guy on the train. To avoid the stifling heat that is the pendeltåg. Or to leave when you want to and not have to wait for damn near an hour because of a tidigare signalfel.

That being said, Sweden is doing its damndest to make driving hell. Which I was reminded of as I drove through Stockholm. Somehow, I managed to get tolled twice as I drove through town. Usually once you get in that’s it. But not for me. I was forced through one of the few double toll areas. And once I got there, I of course, at some point had to go back. So I was tolled four times. Granted, I was driving at the non-peak hours so it only ends up being 40 SEK but still. That would really put a damper on my day if I had to make that drive on a regular basis.

Following this I filled my tank and washed my car. I’ve been trying to wash my car on a more regular basis because my washer fluid tank has a gaping hole in it (along with other exciting maladies so if you know a good mechanic in southern Stockholm I’m all ears). Anyway, first I filled up my tank. A cool 850 crowns. For those of you wondering, the dollar is right around 6.1 SEK today. Let’s do the math. 850 divided by 6.1 equals 139.34. That’s dollars. To fill up a Saab 9000 gas tank with about 60 liters of gas. I paid 13.89 SEK/liter. That’s a lot of money. And since I always get my pay check on time it’s no big deal at all (and by on time I mean three weeks late so if you know of a good job I’m also all ears).

Following my fill-up it was time to wash the car. 120 SEK for the cheapest car wash at Statoil. Again, some quick math – about 20 dollars. And all I got was a car wash and a bit of wax. But whatever. It cleaned my windshield and gave me that nice wax coating I needed so I can put off not having any washer fluid tank for a little bit longer.

But even after all this, I got into my car, turned the iPod on and drove on. On my time. When I wanted to. Where I wanted to. Which turned out to be home strangely enough. But despite dropping over $150 today I’m considering driving to work tomorrow. It’s the American way really.

Welcome to Sweden, where if you swallow your pride and open your wallet, you can still live like an American.


  1. You know, more people in this country (US) should have to read stuff like this (not that is a painful read). I hate $4.00/gas, but there are only a few places where it is cheaper and I'm not sure your average American wants to live in those places.

    Maybe some duct tape to fix your washer fluid resevoir??

  2. Well, all those tolls and those high gas prices are there to encourage (or maybe force, whichever one you like really) people to go with the bus or train. To help the environment and slow down the global warming. So, while it may be a hell to pay all that money all that extra money is there for a reason, a good reason at that so I'm actually glad it is like that. I don't even have a driver's license. Mostly because I can't afford it but also because I don't need one. The American way which means pretty much everybody driving with their cars everywhere is actually very wasteful, of natural resources plus it's not good for the environment and it speeds the global warming up. So as I said I'm glad driving is hell in Sweden. Well, that could also be because I'm "skadeglad"...

  3. I agree with robban about the global warming, and Im sorry that you donät find our planet as important as your comfort. "the american way" (whatever it may be) always makes me think of sad people who hides behind the fact that they are amaericans and that that would make them better then everybody else. What is the american way? really? I like the US in general, I just get so tired of the "being an american"- thing..
    Its so overrated.

  4. @john - agreed. 4 dollars is nothing. and I actually do have some duct tape that I've been thinking of trying out. just don't really want to deal with it is what it comes down to.

    @robban - I know the tolls are there for a reason. and I made a choice to drive through them. so I knew what I was getting myself into. but the double tolling was kind of lame.

    there are quite a few people like you that don't even have a drivers license. very different than the US. because you're right. a lot of americans drive everywhere. sometimes its ridiculous. sometimes its glorious. and yesterday was a glorious driving day for me.

    and I think Sweden in general is kind of partial to skadeglädje.

    @anoynmous - I'm sorry you have to play the holier than thou card with your comment about me caring more about my comfort than the planet. but thanks for the quick lesson. much appreciated. yesterday I dumped my old engine oil in the lake, chopped down a tree, and I also clubbed some baby seals to death for good measure.

    as I've said many times in this blog (read the discussion that was had here to get all of my exciting thoughts on this issue: I don't buy into the sky is falling approach to global warming. yeah I think its happening, and yeah I think that we have an impact. but Im not worried about the world flooding in 50 years.

    and I am well aware of the fact that tolls, and high gas taxes, and various other "green" initiatives in Sweden are meant to stop people from driving. but the beauty of economics is that everyone has a choice. and so while you might decide that you would rather sit on public transportation than pay for gas, I might decide that avoiding the nonsense that is public transportation every now and again is well worth a tank of gas. everyone has a choice, it's just that here in Sweden, it seems while everyone does have a choice, choosing the option that is not seen as acceptable by the majority of the population is frowned upon. so much so that it has an impact on your ability to make that choose. because to be honest, it seems like there are plenty of politicians, and the general public, who would have no problem basically outlawing driving. and thats just kind of ridiculous. because no I don't have a choice.

    your questiona bout the american way is simple. it's having a choice. being able to drive to work one day, or maybe take the bus the next. and not worrying that the government is going to tax the hell out of you so that you fall into line with the "choice" that they approve of.

    and I think you'll also find that if you actually talk with americans rather than listen to all the nonsense you'll find that they are proud to be americans, but don't necessarily assume that makes them better than anyone. because te same thing happens in good old Sweden. Swedes seem intensely proud of themselves despite jantelagen. this can be seen in their constant preaching on things they believe they have the answers to all the big ticket issues (global warming, sexism, feminism, immigration, racism).

    The point of the post was not to make a comment on global warming, but simply to point out the differences between the two cultures. I, obviously, enjoy driving and embrace the American culture. Most Swedes don't. It's this attitude that you are better than me that drives me nuts.

  5. Being a libertarian I usually find myself in favor of the "American way", when it comes to freedom, state, taxes and things like that. But in this case I'm all for the Swedish way of doing it.

    To make a simile: If you break my bike, you have to pay to have it fixed and if you smash my window, you have to pay for its reparations. So if you pollute the air by driving a car, doesn't it make sense that you have to pay to get it cleaned.

    And by driving you are wearing down the roads, a lot more than I do. So I think it's about right that you who use the roads pay a bigger part of the maintenance cost, than us who don't drive.

    I'd rather have this system where you pay for the things that you use and the damage you cause, than to raise everybodys taxes. Being responsible for the pollution and wearing that you cause is not something you should be whining too much about, I think.

  6. @snefald - agreed. you use, you should pay for it. fair enough really, which is why I'm might bitch and moan a little bit about the prices, but I keep paying. because to be honest, if I had enough of a problem with the prices I would stop driving. as I mentioned above, the point of this post was to simply demonstrate the differences between Sweden and the US when it coems to things like filling up a tank of gas.

    and to whine a little bit about the double tolling. toll me once. that's fine. but the double toll is just a little below the belt. or at least for those who live on lidingö where I had my conference and get double tolled on a regular basis everytime they head south.

  7. "if you actually talk with americans rather than listen to all the nonsense"
    I am married to one :) And i have lived in the US for 2 years even though i just came back to sweden 4months ago. What do you mean with that swedish people are the opposite of the "american way"? we have no choices?
    You make it sound like all swedish people take the tram/bus everyday to and from work because they have no choice and because the states makes them to that with constantly raising taxes. Sweden is a welfare country where people pay a lot for what they want = they drive their cars and dont give a damn about taxes/nature.
    I didnt say that i belive that the world is comming to and end within 50 years, I'm just saying that by havening the attitude that you seem to have (to be proud over the fact that you are dricing a car) does not slow down the process of global warming either.

  8. Good work on marrying an American. Does she remind you of a sad person hiding behind being American? And does she think she’s better than you? You know… because she’s American.

    If you read my post and ensuing comments you’ll find that nowhere do I say that Swedish people are the opposite of the American way. And nowhere do I say that Swedes have no choices. In fact, I say specifically that Swedes do have choices. I just pointed out that pressure from various sources (including, but not limited to, the government, the media, the general public) often times is so strong that to go against what is deemed “right” makes you into some sort of pariah.

    I’m well aware that not all Swedes take public transportation. And I’m well aware that they do so because they choose to do so. But that choice is helped along by high taxes. I would also argue that the state does force people into public transportation. One idea of raising gas taxes, tolls, and making it expensive and difficult to get a drivers license is to convince people to use other forms of transportation. So yeah, the state plays a big role in what form of transportation Swedes use. Especially in big cities like Stockholm.

    “Sweden is a welfare country where people pay a lot for what they want = they drive their cars and don’t give a damn about taxes/nature. “ I don’t even really know what the hell you are trying to say here. Sweden is a welfare state. Correct. Very good. You have identified the political model of Sweden. People pay a lot for what they want in Sweden. This follows because of the high tax burden brought about by the welfare state setup. Once again, good work. Unfortunately you lose me here. Nowhere do I say Swedes don’t care about the environment. If you read this blog, and even the comments on this post, you will see that I acknowledge that much of what is done in response to driving is because Swedes DO care about the environment.

    What I think is so interesting about all of this is that I clearly acknowledge the high costs of driving. And I am acknowledging that I have made a choice to drive when I want to. Yet somehow, that still fires you up enough that you feel the need to lecture me about my driving habits. The funny thing? I drive maybe two or three times a month since moving to Sweden.

    And once again, thank you for the holier than thou lesson. I just get so tired of the "driving is selfish and bad"- thing.. It’s so overrated (sound familiar?). What’s the view like from atop that ivory tower?

  9. I wonder if motorcyclists have it any easier... probably not with all the rain sweden gets...

  10. no idea at all. any motorcycle riders out there?

  11. hairy: What's up with your temper?!
    Not that I agree on what anonymous is saying (even though i see the point) you should really come down to earth. I hate when people try to "diss" others like you are doing with your "good work" comments. Not what I would expect from you at all. Grow up!

  12. agreed. he chapped my ass and I let the comments fly. fair enough.

    although I must say that the anonymous comments are an attitude I have run into on a regular basis here in Sweden. considering my own driving habits in this lovely country (maybe 2 or 3 times a month) it's something I get pretty fed up with. it's amazing that the second someone says they enjoy driving then clearly they are out to get the environment.

    so my comments may have been a bit harsh, but I'm going to go ahead and stand by what I say. maybe I'll tone it down a bit next time.

  13. hello, this is a little random but i found your blog on a search. i'm actually coming to stockholm in a month and was hoping to get a driving license. have u any idea what i have to do, and how much it may cost?

  14. all good questions. I dont really have answers to them unfortunately. I know you can drive on your license for your home countrys license for a year. and if you are from the eu, iceland, norway, or japan you can just switch them over at the police station. otherwise I assume you have to go through thte whole process which is a driving test, a written test, some work on an ice course and it all costs quite a bit.

    hopefully that helps a little bit.

  15. I don't think the high taxes are there to try to force people into public transportation, in that case they would have to expand it extremely much.. But sweden is a relatively large country by land and with a small population. Maintaining all the roads in northern sweden where almost no-one lives costs very much. That could be one of many reasons. And there was a vote about the tolls in stockholm, and the people wanted them and got them. And so today there is less traffic in the city centre then there was before.

  16. thats true. but at the same time, that could be argued for alot of countries.

    and youre also right about the people voting in the toll roads. but I read recently that the traffic is back up to the levels it was at before the tolls. it seems that the tolls kept people from driving for a while but now people are driving just as much.