Right-wing city government overturns car bans: madrid steps on the gas again

The new right-wing government of the Spanish capital stops driving bans for gasoline and diesel cars. In the process, the air had become cleaner.

Madrid at night: Soon more action on the streets again Photo: dpa

Madrid puts the reverse gear. The conservative mayor Jose Luis MartInez-Almeida, who was appointed by the city council on Saturday, wants to open the city to traffic again. In doing so, he is reversing one of the most profound measures taken by the previous left-wing alternative city government to combat air pollution. Madrid is the first city in Europe to revise such measures against high air pollution.

Although the left won the May 26 election handily with 31 percent, Almeida’s Partido Popular forged a majority with the right-wing liberal Ciudadanos and the radical right Vox. The three parties in this coalition had already railed against the traffic restrictions under the name "Madrid Central" on 4.7 square kilometers in Spain’s capital during the election campaign.

Since last November, only electric cars and hybrid vehicles have been allowed to drive here without restriction. Residents, their visitors and vehicles with special permits for owners who work in the center are exempt. Residents as well as owners of non-fossil fuel vehicles are allowed to park on the street, all others have to go to the parking garage.

Absolute driving ban applies to gasoline cars registered before 2000, and diesel cars registered before 2006. Violations have been punishable by fines since March. Now, starting in July, Almeida will turn off the cameras that monitor the no-entry zone and automatically send out fine notices of 90 euros.

"Madrid Central is a failure"

"Madrid Central must cease to exist, because it is a failure," he says, explaining his decision. His party colleague Isabel DIaz Ayuso, who will govern the region around the capital in the future, even mourns the nightly traffic jams on weekends, which no longer exist thanks to "Madrid Central." "They were "a feature of Madrid’s identity," she says.

From the traffic statistics of recent months, the "failure" of which the right-wing parties speak cannot be seen. Downtown traffic has decreased by as much as 24 percent on major downtown streets. NO2 levels were down 48 percent year-over-year in the City in May, and down 16 percent citywide. Nor did commerce and restaurants suffer from the restrictions, as the right-wingers invoke.

The environmental organization Ecologistas en Acción is considering taking the case to Brussels. The biggest threat to the new city administration and its backward-looking transport policy comes from the EU Commission. This is because Spain only narrowly escaped a complaint from the Commission back in 2017 because of the high levels of air pollution in the country, but especially in Madrid and Barcelona.

The threat of fines against Spain was put on hold after Madrid and Barcelona announced measures against inner-city road traffic.

"The EU is not asking for Madrid Central, it is asking for efficient results in the fight against air pollution," Mayor Almeida said. But he did not say what he intends to do about air pollution instead, without restricting the freedom he vaunted for citizens – those driving cars, of course. A threat from his party colleague and European Commissioner for Climate Change, Miguel Arias Canete, promptly came from Brussels on Tuesday: "Cities that do not comply" would be penalized.