What are Low Emission Zones?

As we have discussed in previous posts, The climate and environmental emergency that the planet is experiencing makes it necessary to take certain measures for the good of all. These measures include those related to the automotive industry, which has a certain share of responsibility for the emission of greenhouse gases that are so harmful to our well-being.

Faced with this situation, Spain and several European countries have created what are known as low emission zones to try to reduce air pollution in urban areas to the minimum possible by vehicles. That said, over the next few lines, at AutoUsaPremium we are going to explain what exactly they are and under what rules and criteria they are generally governed.

Low emission zones: what are they?

Once the introduction to put everything in context is finished, it is time to get down to business and discuss in depth what low emission zones are about and how they are regulated. Here we go.

The Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Change of Spain defines them as “areas where access to certain vehicles is restricted due to their emissions”. The ministerial body ensures that its raison d’être lies in “improving the quality” of the air and specifies that they are limited to a certain space within a city, or even the entire city.

Having said this, it can be said that they are specific geographical places or spaces and spatially delimited in which the entry of vehicles that are likely to generate pollution at certain levels is regulated. Its regulation is subject to a series of conditions, it may also be subject to the payment of an access fee or be completely restricted.

Types of low emission zones

Depending on the degree of regulation that is carried out within it, different types of low emission zones can be found. However, it should be noted that said regulation is subordinated to specific regulations established at the municipal level:

1. Temporary

They correspond to those in which the limitations are conditioned to a deterioration of air quality or to a history of contamination monitored by the different weather stations of the city in question.

2. Permanent

In his case, the prohibitions are firm and immovable, so that they are regulated based on the system of environmental distinctions established by the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT), which appears briefly in each car review that is made here. To order them, you can either go to any Post Office, in exchange for five euros and without having to make an appointment, or to the trusted workshop where you go frequently. The classification of these tags works as follows:

  • no label: includes all gasoline-powered cars that were registered before the year 2000, as well as diesel cars that were registered before 2006.
  • Label B: it corresponds to bring it to cars that run on gasoline dating from between 2000 and 2006, as well as diesel cars that go from 2006 to 2013.
  • Label C: includes four-wheel gasoline vehicles registered after 2006 and diesel vehicles registered after 2014.
  • Eco Label: is limited solely and exclusively to hybrid cars.
  • ZERO label: involves both electric and hybrid cars whose autonomy is above 40 kilometers.
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3. Other LEZs

Apart from those already mentioned, there are others such as the Zero Emissions Central Area Zones (ACCE) that only allow the entry of hydrogen, electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles occasionally; and the APR/SER in which its residents can enter, park or park thanks to the fact that they meet special conditions.

How are LEZs regulated?

If we stop at the case of Spain, for example, the truth is that will enter into force at the national level from the year 2023. This was established by the Climate Change and Ecological Transition Law, which began to be applied on May 22, 2021 and which announced that adaptation that the urban areas of many cities will have to carry out. The populations that, in the words of its article 14, are obliged to create ZBE, are those that meet these requirements:

  • That have more than 50,000 inhabitants.
  • Island territories.
  • Municipalities that exceed 20,000 inhabitants and that exceed certain emission limits.

With these precepts, certain conclusions can be drawn, such as that at least some 149 cities that are home to 25 million people (practically half of the country’s population) will have to have a low emission zone. As we have already said here, the Town Halls are the ones who decide which vehicles can access and which cannot. This precept obeys the idea of ​​the DGT to unify signaling.

However, the fact that the town hall is in charge of regulating it can result in the same car being prohibited from entering a low emission zone in one city but can enter another. For this reason, this institution promotes the sharing of information between vehicles and urban centers through the National Access Point for traffic information. It can also be said that all those drivers who have a car with the Eco or ZERO label are guaranteed entry to any type of ZBE without exception.

What Spanish cities have ZBE?

The two main cities in the country, Madrid and Barcelona, ​​are the ones that are most endowed with them. In the case of the capital, it has been undergoing changes since it saw the light, although without moving the general prohibitions. Vehicles without a label cannot enter the current Madrid 360 area, which corresponds to the most central part of the city: Gran Vía, Sol, Atocha, Chueca, Malasaña, Embajadores, Lavapiés and Cibeles. In the case of those with labels B and C, they cannot circulate here either, unless they intend to go directly to a car park. It is also necessary to indicate that another one was added in Plaza Elíptica.

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So, wear a label?

In the case of the space located in the city of Barcelona, ​​it is going to prohibit the access of cars with the distinction B from 2024, although at the beginning it proposed to do it precisely from 2022. Unlike what was seen with Madrid, it does not have so many exceptions and nuances for residents. In what the authorities in Barcelona have had a wide sleeve is in relation to schedules, since the restrictions are carried out from Monday to Friday between 7 in the morning and 20 hours in the afternoon for cars that do not wear a label.

Apart from them, in other cities there are what are known as specific plans against temporary episodes of contamination, which They can be seen in cities like Valladolid, Valencia and Seville. These initiatives not only attack peaks of air pollution generated by traffic, but also include those caused by the weather. In this way, they are activated as soon as the levels of harmful particles measured by the stations of the city in question are exceeded for a period of time. To do this, they follow criteria dictated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

To what extent are LEZs effective?

The degree of efficiency of low emission zones is marked by the physical extension that constitutes their space, as well as the specific rules established in regard to circulation and access. However, there are studies that have drawn positive conclusions about its presence.

For example, in Germany, three cities with LEZ within them were analysed. The work certified that there was a reduction of between 5 and 10 percent of PM10, which are a series of very harmful particles of matter suspended in the air less than 10 micrometers in size. The aforementioned Madrid Central achieved, when it had this name, reduced nitrogen dioxide emissions by up to 32 percent thanks to the measures that were implemented under its operation.

And where is LEZ in the rest of Europe?

Large cities belonging to the Old Continent host this type of space. In the case of the city of Milan, there are four zones distinguished by the type of vehicle that can access each of them, as well as other requirements. London was the first to establish a fee to enter its area known as Central London in 2003, and currently has two low and ultra low emission.

Something similar to what has been seen in Spain is happening in Paris, so that, since 2016, the Government has demanded that a badge called Crit’Air be placed that classifies French vehicles into six categories based on their emissions to allow them to circulate through the so-called Restricted Circulation Zone.

Finally, in Rome there is what is called Limited Traffic Zone which only allows free entry to residents, employees and drivers of electric vehicles. Those with gasoline and diesel registered before 2000 have to request a permit with a fee that starts at 76 euros per year. To it we must add two other areas, also emphasizing gasoline and diesel models.

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