May 30, 2017
OSLO — Electric vehicle (EV) owners living around Oslo have an extra incentive to wake up early. That's because in the Norwegian capital's city center, parking spaces equipped with charging devices are in short supply.
"If I get here after 6:45 a.m., I can be sure I won't find anywhere to park and charge my car," says Henning Heitmann, a well-dressed professional in his 40s. Heitmann is in the third level of a bunker-like underground parking. He works in a legal office not far from the parking area. And like many other people, he commutes to work in downtown Oslo every day from his home, some 40 kilometers away.
There's a reason these 1,200 EV parking spaces are so sought after: They're free, as is the electricity they provide. And since the purchase of electric vehicles is exempt from the 25% value-added tax (VAT) and EV drivers don't have to pay tolls on the highways to the center of Oslo, a growing number of Norwegians are making the switch. It's a boon in a country that has one of the highest costs of living in Europe.
Norway is the world's 13th biggest oil producer. But it is also a pioneer in electric mobility, earning praise overseas from environment activists and car manufacturers alike.
Electric cars offer other advantages, too.
"We're allowed to drive in the bus lanes in and out of Oslo," Heitmann explains. "It's a lot faster."
Sweetening the deal
Launched in 1990 and expanded since then, the push to encourage EV use has borne fruit. Norway is the country with the highest proportion of electric cars per capita. Late last year, the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association celebrated the sale of the 100,000th all-electric car. In 2016 alone, 24,222 new vehicles were sold, representing 16% of the total number of cars sold that year — a world record. Add the 20,063 hybrid vehicles sold, and the share rises to 29%.
Government incentives played a crucial role in this breakthrough.
"The abolition of the VAT made all the difference and makes these vehicles very competitive," says Christina Bu, secretary general of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association. Her face has become familiar to Norwegians, who have gotten used to seeing her making her case in the media.
Bu acknowledges that EV technology is still developing and that the charging-station infrastructure "is imperfect." That's why the government incentive package worth several hundred million euros is so vital. "It would have been impossible to attract so many consumers otherwise," the EV association head explains.
The Norwegian authorities want to give green cars every opportunity to develop, especially given that close to 100% of the cheap electricity the country produces comes from its hydropower stations. Norway has taken the lead in that sector thanks to a few stubborn engineers who, in spite of all the jibes, designed their own vehicles more than 25 years ago. Celebrities — including the Crown Prince Haakon and the lead singer of A-ha — played their part as well by giving electric vehicles a glamorous appeal.
Switching to electric cars is also a way to reduce carbon emission; which, in turn, helps boost the country's image and reputation. Norway is the world's 13th biggest oil producer. But it is also a pioneer in electric mobility, earning praise overseas from environment activists and car manufacturers alike.
"We're used to our comfort"
Norway's minister of transport, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, is well aware of that. He recently went to meet representatives of Tesla and other manufacturers to assess the state of technological progress in what, on a global scale, remains a niche. "We need help from the manufacturers to succeed," Solvik-Olsen said in the wings of a Nordic Electric Vehicles Summit in February near Oslo.
He and the right-wing Progress Party he represents are no big fans of public subsidies or high taxes. Far from it. But in this respect, as well as in others, they've made some compromises since entering the government led by the conservative Erna Solberg in 2013.
Solvik-Olsen himself has a gas-guzzling 1985 Cadillac that, by his own admission, he "pampers." But he supports the government's EV-incentive regime.
"Of course we need to tackle the impact of cars on the environment, the noise and public spaces," he says. "The market won't do it without the government's intervention. That's why we're investing in public transport infrastructure. We don't want 16-lane highways running in and out of Oslo. We prefer more bus lanes and more trains."
The problem is that for now at least, the public infrastructure doesn't match the needs or expectations of commuters. On weekdays, at rush hour, local busses are packed, meaning that during the long winter, people often need to go on foot.
"It's not easy. We're used to our comfort," says Per Knusden, a commuter in his 50s. A monthly bus ticket costs between 80 and 200 euros per month, depending on the areas. And when the bus lanes started to jam because of the increasing number of electric cars authorized to drive on them, more people gnashed their teeth.
Since then, the legislation has been amended. Any electric car entering or leaving Oslo now must transport at least two people — driver included — to be able to drive in a bus lane at rush hour. But some still find ways to cheat, by taking the babysitter with them and paying the bus-ride back home for them or by installing a mannequin on the passenger seat.
Another upcoming change is the end of the toll exemption for electric cars. Starting next year, though, the rate will be five to six times lower than that for other vehicles.
"There must be an incentive to use electric vehicles; but at the same time, they need to contribute a little to funding public transports and in the fight against air pollution," explains Sture Portvik, the EV expert at Oslo's city hall.
The municipal government, run by a left-wing coalition since 2015, also wants to move EV parking spaces from downtown Oslo to peripheral neighborhoods. The stated goal is to reduce the use of private cars — even electric ones — as much as possible. That's prompted more grumblings from commuters.
The government is planning to stop sales of vehicles that emit carbon by 2025, thus marking the beginning of a new era — the era of "zero emission vehicles."
"I don't quite get the logic of this measure," says Lowe Lindroth, a banker who owns two electric cars, one for longer family drives and the other to go to work.
The new charging stations outside the city are being installed in partnership with private companies. And users will have to pay at a kilowatt-hour rate that is actually twice as high as the normal household price.
Christina Bu calls the charging station shortage "the main obstacle preventing electric vehicles from taking off." She hopes to see the number of electric cars in Norway (only 3.5% of the total number of cars so far, despite all the government subsidies) top 400,000 by 2020.
But time is running out, as the VAT exemption is expected to be removed that same year. At the same time, the government is planning to stop sales of vehicles that emit carbon by 2025, thus marking the beginning of a new era — the era of "zero emission vehicles." Incentives or no incentives, consumers may soon have no choice but to join the EV revolution.
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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