Madrid to Ban Cars & Offer Free Public Transport


Paris started it by banning cars for a day. Oslo announced a complete ban starting in 2019. Now Madrid has joined the carless-race.

While their proposal will be some of the toughest anti-pollution laws going, it is not a complete ban like the one set out in Oslo; it will come into effect when air pollution drops below a given threshold, and then three things will happen: half of the cars in the city will be banned from driving, the speed limit on the ring will be reduced to 70 km per hour, and public transport will be free for that day.

This goes far beyond the banning of cars from the historic centre of the city and reverses the decision to massively increase the cost of public transport tickets (in effect by cutting the subsidiy). Madrid’s pollution is so bad that there is a regularly a smog layer above the city, which the Madrilenos have nicknamed “la Boina” – the “beret”, and the EU pollution limits are increasingly regularly flouted.

The city administration did introduce a law in the Spring of this year, but the March threshold was 200 micrograms of nitrous oxide per cubic metre on 2 consecutive days, which was so high that it was never reached and therefore never enforced. The new threshold of 180 micrograms has to be exceeded for just two consecutive hours to trigger the 70 kph speed limit, with the ban on half the cars coming into effect at the 200 microgram level.

As usual, there are political differences, as Madrid city’s government is leftish and the Madrid region (more like a county here) is rightish. These decisions are taken by the city (which is polluted) but the region’s transport committee is opposed, pointing out the cost of free public transport per day – and possibly having to refund season ticket holders so they can have a day’s free travel – which presumably would have a knock-on effect on taxation. Most of the longer distance car commuters come in from the region and have their vote there.

We wrote earlier about the estimated 400,000 premature deaths across Europe due to vehicle pollution; some estimates suggest that 2,000 of those occur in Madrid alone. Do you paraphrase the issue as: “would you like cheaper taxes & pollution or to die earlier?


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