Society 01/04/2021

And now, no vans either: everything you need to know about Barcelona's veto on polluting vehicles

From April 1, they will be included in the list of cars and motorbikes that cannot circulate if they do not have the DGT environmental label

Elena Freixa
4 min
Aragon Street in its section through the center of Barcelona

BarcelonaIn 2020, Barcelona and four other municipalities in its metropolitan area began to apply a permanent traffic restriction for the first time to some of the most polluting vehicles. The impact of the pandemic relaxed the timetables for compliance with the regulation for larger vehicles (vans, lorries and coaches, for example), but from April 1 the moratorium ends for the first group of these vehicles, vans, which will no longer be able to enter the low-emission zone.

These are the environmental rules for circulation in this area:

What is the low emission zone and how far does it go?

The low emission zone (ZBE) of Barcelona is an area of 95 square kilometers that encompasses the city of Barcelona -delimited by the ring roads, which are exempt from restrictions- and includes part of the nearby municipalities of L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Cornellà, Esplugues and Sant Adrià de Besòs. The area is equivalent to 20 times the pioneering low-emission area that had launched Madrid, the so-called Madrid Central.

Which vehicles cannot circulate in the ZBE?

All vehicles - cars, motorcycles, motorcycles, mopeds and light three and four wheel vehicles - that do not have the environmental label of the Directorate General of Traffic (DGT) are banned. Broadly speaking, these are petrol vehicles prior to 2000 and diesel vehicles prior to 2006. It is advisable for cars to add the sticker visibly to avoid being stopped by the Guardia Urbana, but it is not compulsory.

When and how does it work?

The prohibition to circulate is from Monday to Friday between 7 am and 8 pm. On public holidays and weekends the restrictions are lifted for all vehicles. The option of lifting restrictions on Friday afternoons to facilitate weekend departures has been ruled out.

Are there exceptions for some vehicles?

The larger categories of vehicles, from vans to lorries and coaches, have moratoriums that still allow them to drive throughout the area but which will expire later this year.

ZBE moratoriums
  • Vans (category N1) As of April 1 2021, those without an environmental sticker will not be allowed to enter the city. They make up for 7% of the vans currently on the road in Barcelona and most of them are more than 15 years old, according to the City Council. Those who have bought a new vehicle and are waiting for it to arrive will be able to circulate in the meantime with their old vehicle.
  • Heavy vehicles, lorries and small coaches (N2, N3 and M2) The moratorium to allow them to circulate regardless of how much they pollute ends in July 2021.
  • Buses and coaches (M3) From January 1 2022, buses and coaches intended for collective transport prior to the Euro 4 standard (usually registered before 2006 or 2007) will also not be allowed to drive

Are there exceptions for some groups?

The comuns accepted a social moratorium proposed by ERC to which people with a low income can apply. The economic impact of covid extended the thresholds and all the self-employed with incomes less than twice the IPREM (the public indicator of income of multiple effects) could benefit from the measure until April 1 this year.

What about ambulances and emergency services?

Ambulances, reduced mobility vehicles and funeral service vehicles are exempt from complying with the new regulations.

What happens if I have an emergency and my car cannot be driven?

Each driver has up to 10 authorisations per year to avoid the ban. Upon application to the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB), you can take the vehicle and circulate up to 10 days each year. Each daily authorization has a cost of 2 euros and there are bonuses for low incomes.

How do I have to apply for the specific authorisations?

The metropolitan register has been set up, which already allows you to start the procedures for registering vehicles that do not have a sticker or that have foreign number plates so that, once the restrictions are in place, you can apply for one-day permits to drive.

What other types of exemptions and authorisations can be requested?

Vehicles for the transport of persons with reduced mobility and service vehicles (medical, funeral, emergency, security forces, fire brigades and civil protection) can apply for them. Authorisations for temporary activities on sporadic days can also be requested for construction vehicles or vehicles that have to occupy the public road for any reason. In the case of vehicles with foreign number plates, those entitled to circulate have to apply for a certificate that is equivalent to the environmental label and costs 5 euros. The certificate is valid for two years.

How much will the fines be for offenders?

The penalties for violators of the low-emission zone have been in force since September 15 after a postponement during the first state of alarm due to the covid-19 pandemic. The amounts range from 100 to 499 euros for minor offences, 500 to 1,000 for serious offences and 1,800 euros for very serious offences. The amount varies depending on whether the offender is on a motorcycle (a lower penalty) or with a truck, and also become more expensive if the day that the breach is detected there has been an episode declared with particularly high levels of pollution.

Repeat offenders will incur an extra 30% surcharge on the fine. Once a vehicle is detected breaking the restriction, the driver will be given 90 minutes to leave the low emission zone before facing another fine.

A Rodalies train in plaça Catalunya

What environmental improvement is expected?

The Barcelona City Council and the AMB expected very positive effects of the measure - it had to remove up to 125,000 vehicles from circulation and reduce polluting emissions of NOx and particulate matter by 15% - but the impact of the pandemic on mobility has complicated the evaluation due to the exceptional situation. During lockdown, pollution levels fell drastically in Barcelona as a result of a minimum mobility, but the levels rose again quickly once the toughest restrictions were lifted. In fact, the low-emission zone measure was already an important but not sufficient step towards solving the city's air pollution problem: Barcelona needs a 12% reduction in traffic in order to reduce air pollution to meet the pollution ceilings set by the EU.

What mobility alternatives are there?

The entry into operation of the low-emission zone was a litmus test for public transport in the Barcelona metropolitan area, because the administrations expected a 20% increase in passengers. Almost 170,000 more trips per day by train (Rodalies and FGC), bus or metro were expected, according to the calculations of the Metropolitan Transport Authority (ATM), levels that have not been met due to the loss of passengers caused by the pandemic.