In the European Union there are more than 300 low emission zones (ZBE), although there is no official count. “We understand that a ZBE is an area where access to the most polluting vehicles is restricted to reduce emissions and improve air quality, but since there is no legal definition, each city decides how to implement its own,” he summarizes. Nuria Blázquez, who coordinated the report Low Emission Zones of Ecologists in Action in April 2019. The lack of a consensus definition makes this category enter different models: Central Madrid, for example, is very restrictive – it prohibits crossing the area to cars with B or C labels if they do not go to a car park– but it is applied in a very small area; the ZBE of Barcelona occupies an area 20 times larger but it allows tag vehicles to pass through it. Fines for improper access to the Catalan capital will be applied as of April. Those of Central Madrid –that started on March 16– already exceed 375,000 (data until September), according to the City Council of the capital.
The most comprehensive ZBE count to date was carried out in 2015 by the CSIC researcher Xavier Querol through the Airuse project, where he concluded that in the European Union there were about 280 low-emission areas, unevenly distributed: in Germany and Italy they are the norm in large cities, while in Slovakia and Hungary there are none… “To this figure we must add all the cities of more than 50,000 inhabitants of Lombardy [Italia], which according to a regional law must have one of these projects, and some other Italian, ”says Querol. Thus, the European ZBE now exceed 300.
In Europe, there are ZBE in almost every major capital: Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam. Vienna, Athens … Other cities bet on an urban toll for the most polluting vehicles, as do London –which in 2021 will extend the measure to almost the entire city-, Stockholm, Milan, Gothenburg and Oslo, among others. Normally, the collection of this rate is invested in improving public transport. The Web urbanccessregulations.eu It includes most of the European initiatives, although it also includes cities that have anti-pollution protocols, which only apply a few times a year and are much less restrictive.
In Spain, there are only two experiences: the ZBE Madrid Central, which was launched at the end of 2018, and the ZBE of Barcelona, which entered into force on January 2 (the 1st is a holiday). The penalties for improperly accessing the restricted traffic area of the capital are of 90 euros. In Barcelona the fines start at 100 euros, and can reach 1,800 for repeat offenders in high pollution episodes.
“In Germany there is a state framework that marks how a ZBE should be done, but not in Spain,” says Blázquez. This may change soon. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Ecological Transition explains that the Government is working with the General Directorate of Traffic to be able to establish a definition of the ZBE and that its intention is that, when there is Government, a standard similar to that of Lombardy is approved in Spain that forces all cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants to have its own Low Emission Zone. In fact, eight municipalities of the metropolitan area of Barcelona already prepare their own ZBE. Meanwhile, what does exist in Spain are cities that have opted for pedestrianization and bike lanes at the cost of taking room from the car, such as Vitoria, Pontevedra or Valencia.
“To start a ZBE, you have to do it at the beginning of the legislature and monitor the results in terms of emissions, traffic intensity, sales of shops … This makes it easier to demonstrate that they work,” says David Lois, professor at the UNED and researcher in the Transport Research Center of the Polytechnic of Madrid (Transyt). “That was what happened with Central Madrid, which improved the punctuality of urban buses, increased walkability, reduced the number of cars and lowered pollution by 20%,” he adds. In his opinion, the ZBE are essential to improve air quality: “They are the first leg, because they reduce traffic passing. But in addition, we must encourage sustainable mobility (on foot, by bike and by public transport), reduce the number of car parks and perform actions such as super-islands (blocks closed to non-resident traffic), the creation of bike lanes and pedestrianizations ”.
The scientist Xavier Querol believes that the ZBE “does not solve the problem of air quality in cities, but it is a key piece.” The expert recalls that this idea was first applied in Stockholm in 1996 and in 2010 Germany chose to apply it in all its large cities. “But in addition to the ZBE, measures such as a metropolitan transport that have competencies in deterrent parking are needed, that the urban distribution of goods is carried out with hybrid or electric vehicles or by bike, that surface parking is only for residents and redesign the cities to take lanes to cars and give them to pedestrians. ”