“The Centro district will become a lung for the city in the heart of Madrid,” states the introduction to Madrid Central, a plan that establishes a low-emissions zone in the centre of the Spanish capital that begins today.
The 472-hectare (1,166-acre) zone locks out petrol vehicles registered before 2000 and diesel vehicles registered before 2006— except those that qualify for exemption, including residents— while favouring pedestrians, bicycles and public transport.
For non-residents, only zero emissions vehicles and those with ECO labels get free rein under Madrid Central— the rest come with conditions, and those whose environmental labels do not meet one of the four standards set under the national air quality plan, Plan Aire, cannot enter the low emissions zone at all.
According to Madrid’s municipal government, the zone will reap reductions of 40 per cent of emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), while reducing noise and increasing public spaces for people rather than vehicles. It also helps fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“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 Madrid’s councillor for the environment and mobility, Inés Sabanés.
“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,” she said.
The system is being phased in, with compliance and requirements gradually tightening— for example, petrol and diesel taxis, as well as private hire vehicles, are allowed into the zone until the end of 2022, and fines will only be imposed on those who flout the rules from March next year.
Central Madrid is served by dozens of EMT lines— which stands for “Empresa Municipal de Transportes de Madrid”— six Metro lines, and several RENFE (national train system) lines with stops located both inside the zone and on the outer perimeter.
The Madrid City Council also operates the BiciMAD public bicycle leasing system, which has 57 stations (56 are currently operational) and 1,425 bicycle anchors (1,377 operative).
Madrid is the second city to limit cars in its city centre— the Spanish city of Pontevedra in northwest Spain, famous for its well-preserved old town and Gothic basilica has previously attracted attention for banning cars in its city centre.
They both add to a number of European cities that already have low-emission zones, and more are set to follow suit, including Paris, Athens and Mexico City, whose mayors announced plans in 2016 alongside Madrid to take diesel cars and vans off their roads by 2025.
“I don’t think it’s among the strictest measures,” said Sabanés.
“There are different models, such as charging a lot to enter the centre of a city, or legal bans on driving in certain areas, like in Berlin. Madrid has gone for a mixed model, which will allow for a gradual implementation as we set about achieving our goals.”
According to the latest report from the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution in the European Union was about 310,000 in 2015; 42,028 were from the transport sector. According to the WHO, over premature 12,000 deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution in Spain.