Barcelona halves the circulation of the most polluting cars
Vehicles on Aragó street in Barcelona.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

The year 2020, unique in any quantifiable parameter due to the coronavirus pandemic, was the first year in Barcelona for the implementation of the Low Emission Zone (LEZ). After years of preparation, the city and five neighboring municipalities applied the restriction of movement from Monday to Friday to cars and motorcycles that do not have an environmental label from the DGT, the most polluting. The goal is to improve air quality in a city where pollution causes a thousand deaths a year.

But the pandemic, and the severe mobility restrictions that it entailed, impacted on the application of the restriction (fines were delayed and moratoriums for vans and trucks were lengthened) and on pollution, for which traffic is responsible by 60 % if we talk about CO₂ and 30% when counting suspended particles. However, there is already a first balance report for the first year. Coordinated by the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) and with the participation of the ZBE evaluation work group, which includes areas of the City Council, the Generalitat, the Barcelona Metropolitan Area, the CSIC or ISGlobal.

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The conclusions point to the difficulty of measuring the impact of the LEZ on air and particle pollution, due to the uniqueness of pandemic mobility. On the other hand, they do show a drop to half of the most polluting vehicles, those that do not have an environmental label: they went from being 9% -10% of the circulating park in January to only 5% in December. The decrease was clearly perceived in September, when offenders began to be fined (in the initial calendar, the sanctions were supposed to start in April, but the state of alarm delayed it).

Effect of fines

The report celebrates that the environmental improvement of the circulating fleet “entails a reduction in the NO₂ emission factor of vehicles.” Although in this study it has not been possible to quantify, it is precise. Among other factors, because during the toughest weeks of the restrictions, the type of vehicles that circulated (especially delivery vehicles, and many diesel, among which are the most polluting) was not the usual one. The most up-to-date circulating fleet is passenger cars, which barely circulated.

“Longer-term data are necessary to be able to analyze the influence of the LEZ on air quality, especially in an exceptional context due to covid, where mobility patterns are not the usual ones. During the coming months, the sanctionable vehicles in the LEZ will be expanded, so the expected impact will be greater ”, indicates this first report.

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