Wed, Dec 05, 2018 - Page 9 News List

‘It’s the only way forward’: Madrid bans polluting vehicles from city

Since Friday last week, only vehicles producing zero emissions are allowed to drive freely in downtown Madrid — making it a pollution pioneer in Europe

By Sam Jones  /  The Guardian, MADRID

Illustration: Mountain People

By 10:15am on Wednesday last week, Enrique Pelagio had parked his truck in the chic Madrid neighborhood of Chueca and was stacking the trolley that would bring the local cafes, bars and restaurants their daily bread and pastries.

Across the road was the van from the fruit and vegetables shop, while near the craft beer place sat a red delivery truck from the ubiquitous Mahou brewery.

This mini-murmuration of goods vehicles takes place throughout the capital several times a day, every day.

However, change is afoot. On Friday last week, Madrid’s latest anti-pollution measure came into force: A ban on polluting vehicles in the city center.

The plan, known as Madrid Central, establishes a low-emissions zone that covers 472 hectares. All gasoline vehicles registered before 2000 and diesel ones registered before 2006 are banned from the area, unless they are used by residents of the area or meet other exemptions. The goal is to cut nitrogen dioxide levels by 23 percent in 2020 and put people — rather than the internal combustion engine — at the heart of transport policy.

There have been similar moves in other major cities: At the end of 2016, the mayors of Paris, Athens and Mexico City joined Madrid in announcing plans to take diesel cars and vans off their roads by 2025, and in May Hamburg became the first German city to ban some older diesel vehicles from two of its main roads.

Meanwhile, Oslo, which had planned on making its city center car-free, is now embarked on a drive to ensure it has the “fewest possible vehicles.”

In January last year, Paris launched a color-coded sticker scheme to ban all diesel cars registered between 1997 and 2000 between 8am and 8pm.

However, Madrid’s proposal is bolder still: The only vehicles allowed to drive freely around the downtown area will be those that produce zero emissions.

As he stacked his trolley, Pelagio was more sanguine about the new rules than many of his colleagues, who said they cannot afford to upgrade to cleaner vehicles.

“It’s the only way forward,” he said. Besides, with fewer older cars and trucks, “there’ll be more space.”

There is some access under strict rules. Hybrids and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles are allowed into the area to park for a maximum of two hours, and more modern diesel and gasoline vehicles are allowed in to park in public carparks or private garages.

Truck drivers such as Pelagio, meanwhile, are subject to a timetable: The oldest, most polluting trucks are only admitted from 7am to 1pm, while more modern ones would see that window extended until 9pm.

The left-wing city council of Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena has argued that the initiative is as much about public health as public transport.

“Air quality has been breaching acceptable levels for 10 years and people in the city are being exposed to air that has clear effects on their health, especially those who are most vulnerable, such as children and older people,” said Ines Sabanes, councilor for the environment and mobility.

“There’s research that shows clear links between pollution peaks and hospital admissions. It has a very clear effect on health — on the number of deaths and premature births,” Sabanes said.

The mayor’s conservative opponents have tried to thwart the plan, arguing that it has not been executed correctly or been properly thought out.

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