Barcelona is the latest European city to ban old, dirty vehicles from its center. But Barcelona, as you might have guessed given the mayor’s recent blitz on both cars and tourism, is going one better. Not only is the city banning cars older than 20 years from the urban center, it is also banning them from all surrounding municipalities.
From January 1, 2019, cars registered before 1999, and vans registered before 1996, will be prohibited from Barcelona’s roads on weekdays. They will also be barred from 40 surrounding municipalities. The plan is to cut emissions by 30% over the next 15 years. The ban will affect 106,000 cars and 22,000 vans, or 7% of all cars and 16% of all vans on the roads. Currently, it is estimated that pollution causes 3,500 premature deaths every year in the Catalan capital.
Discussions are underway on how best to enforce the scheme. One proposal is that all cars will get a sticker that corresponds to their level of emissions. Another is that controls will be put at the entrances to the city. At the same time, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona has budgeted $48.7 million to improve public transit options, including “park and ride” schemes where drivers park on the outskirts and take the bus into the center.
But most radical of all, perhaps, is a proposal to give a free public transit pass, valid for three years, to anyone who has to give up their car because of the ban. That won’t be cheap, but it’s an amazing way to take care of people, while almost forcing them onto public transport, which must be a major goal of any car-removal scheme.
Of course, there have already been complaints. Spanish newspaper El País has collected some outraged tweets, and as you’d expect, most of them miss the point entirely: “Am I supposed to buy another car?” says one Barcelona resident. Hopefully, the provision of a three-year transit pass will answer that question.
Barcelona is becoming a great example to other cities when it comes to curbing car use. The combination of a hard line on drivers and cars, along with smart thinking (Superblocks; the three-year pass), and heavy investment in infrastructure and transit, are proving to be a winning formula. Perhaps most surprising is the speed at which it’s all happening.
Partly this is down to the mayor, Ada Colau, who is unaffiliated with any established political parties, and therefore unencumbered by the old vested political interests. And partly it’s down to the geography of the city itself, which is dense, compact, walkable, and already has excellent public transport. But overall, it’s a mixture of practicality and political will. The air is filthy. Cars make it filthy. Therefore, cars need to go. It’s simple in theory, and Barcelona is proving that it doesn’t have to be crazy complex in practice, either.