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Last Friday, Madrid's strict new vehicle emissions controls went into effect, causing a drop in traffic of almost 32 percent in some parts of the city, El País reports.
The new rules place strict restrictions on which vehicles can enter an area of just under two square miles in the city center. The plan, known as Madrid Central, is an attempt to reduce the city's nitrogen dioxide levels, which have exceeded European limits since 2010 and are believed to cause around 3,000 premature deaths per year, according to one study.
The exact drop in traffic varies for different zones. One area, San Bernardo, registered a modest reduction of just over 5 percent, while Gran Vía registered the largest reduction of 31.8 percent.
Although Reuters reports that traffic continues to be heavy around the perimeter of the area, El País says that even there, traffic levels were reduced by between 1 and 2 percent. The lack of congestion also had benefits for public transportation, as bus speeds on one highway increased by 14 percent.
The exact vehicles affected by the ban vary depending on the type of fuel, the year of manufacture and the way they are used. Gasoline and diesel vehicles registered before 2000 and 2006, respectively, will be restricted, while hybrid vehicles will be able to enter the area and park for a maximum of two hours.
However, residents living in the controlled area will not be affected by the ban. Gasoline and diesel taxis will continue to be allowed in the area until 2022. Electric cars, which produce no emissions, driven by non-residents, will also be allowed to enter the area freely. The new rules are expected to impact about 20 percent of the vehicles currently entering the city center.
The Madrid plan has been criticized by political opponents and industry representatives who argue that people drive older and more polluting vehicles because they cannot afford the upgrade, and the new rules unfairly penalize low-income drivers. The president of the Association of Autonomous Truck Drivers, Antonio Villaverde, said the city could experience shortages of supplies as truck drivers struggle to buy new vehicles that meet the requirements. Exceptions for residents can also limit the effectiveness of the ban. The conservative opposition Popular Party plans to challenge the new rules in court.
Madrid is not the only European city exploring the use of vehicle bans in the wake of air pollution that is called the "greatest environmental risk" to public health in Europe. Athens and Paris will ban diesel cars from city streets by 2025, while the latter also wants their streets to be filled with only electric cars by 2030. In 2019, London will introduce an 'Ultra Low Emission Zone' You will see most gasoline cars produced before 2005 banned, along with most diesel cars produced before 2015.
Original article (in English)