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Emissions fall in Madrid city center thanks to new traffic restrictions (elpais.com)
208 points by ingve 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

I don't own a car because I'm fortunate enough to live in London with an awesome public transport system and a half decent cycle network.

But the air quality here sucks and pollution from cars is through the fucking roof. We just introduced an Ultra Low Emission area scheme that's a half hearted attempt to do what they've done in Madrid, but for me that doesn't go far enough.

I think we should just ban any vehicles that aren't electric from being inside the M25 and give people two years to prepare.

I get that this will be difficult for a lot of people and cause a lot of disruption, but it's killing us. It's killing us now. And if the Brexit brigade can wave away the looming catastrophe of their no-deal-Brexit dreams by conjuring up fantasies about the Blitz spirit, and how we can always make do and mend because we're British; then I don't see why we can't use that same logic to inflict difficult circumstances on people to save the fucking planet and protect our fellow citizens from the harm of air pollution that's being brought into our city by people who don't fucking live here.

The cycle network is not half decent imo. Take a walk - or a drive around London and it quickly becomes apparent that cyclist are the lowest priority next to cars (1st) and walkers (2nd). In many cases, the cycle network is so half-assed it ends up making things more dangerous for everyone. Numerous bike paths exist that head directly into a utility pole, or last less than a block, or are consistently used as parking spaces, or lack any sort of protection from drivers. London does have a handful of nice 'cycle superhighways' which in any other city are simply 'bike lanes.' It's a good start.

I see bike infrastructure as a win-win-win. You reduce traffic and pollution, free up space on public transit, and improve the health and wellbeing citizens. I think London could develop a really unique bike network too - because many of the paths don't need to be associated with roadways and can instead cut through parks or follow along beside train tracks, canals, or the river.

Nearly all pollution is due to older vehicles and diesel vehicles. Banning all non-electric cars is a rather sledgehammer way to deal with that.

I agree. I would go further by forcing all new cars to be plug-in hybrids as soon as it is practically doable. Maybe someone with ICE and battery expertise can chip in and clarify whether there are any pitfalls in this approach.

I simply don't understand why this is not enforced very soon. Many companies are producing inexpensive hybrids, so it sounds quite doable. And most people, at least in Europe, make really short trips on average.

Even if the electricity used to charge your car was produced by a coal plant, pollution could be controlled by centralized filters, etc. Clearly much better than having machines driving around cities and spreading toxic fumes and particles everywhere.

I see inefficient-yet-hybrid SUVs in Pittsburgh, yet more-efficient-yet-gasoline-only subcompacts would be banned. I frequently see people who won't alter their own wasteful practices (always buying new things, instead of re-using or repairing old ones, for example), yet virtue signal by buying green, driving hybrid, etc. If you really want root out the causes, we need to measure all the contributors, including people's life choices (living in suburbia, eating meat, etc.). Pretty soon it becomes clear how draconian that would be. Cost is a pretty good proxy for all of that, yet leaves people free.

The (unsubsidised) cost of a product or service already exists as a reasonable proxy for waste and petroleum usage.

Are you suggesting we add carbon and pollution taxes to offset some of the the externalities?

Your income level is a superb indicator of how much of the planets resources you are using.

Does taxation that goes to the government change that? Does the government use taxes more "greenly" than consumers?

On topic: if they shut down the centre of Madrid, they could get pollution to zero!

>The (unsubsidised) cost of a product or service already exists as a reasonable proxy for waste and petroleum usage.

Not even close; If market economies are good at one thing, it is finding products that concentrate their benefits while at the same time distributing their negative externalities.

> Your income level is a superb indicator of how much of the planets resources you are using.

Not really. Your spending level is. One can have high income and reinvest or you can spend money you don't have by borrowing.

I'd agree that income level is correlated.

And just look at the black cabs. Currently excempt from the ULEZ with their old diesel engines running all day because..? Oh, money.

Money and politics. It's kind of ironic that the government controlled black cabs "are responsible for about 60 per cent of greater London’s NOx emissions from passenger cars" while the mostly unregulated Ubers are mostly relatively clean Priuses. I gather they are gradually trying to switch the black cabs to electric. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/black-cabs-taxis-a...

I take it that diesels aren’t required to have DEF to reduce the NOx emissions?

I don't think the black cabs have that.

And if you are callous to a psychopath level, you can always create your own 'cab' company just so you can drive your Mercedes S500L everywhere, including public transport priority lanes and public transport only zones.


That is creative for sure but wouldn't work in London. Only the official black cabs can use bus lanes. I suppose you could hire a driver for about £40k a year. Less if you let them use the vehicle while you're abroad.

Agree. The ULEZ is an utter joke.

My car is over fifteen years old. It's ULEZ compliant. I can drive it in to Central London for free after 6pm and at weekends, because it's not diesel.

I don't do it often. I'd be supportive of a serious penalty (50+ quid say).

When it's extended to the North and South Circular roads in a few years time; the car will at that point be almost 20 years old, and if it's still going, permitted for free.

Oh - but I don't live there! I live further out, so actually none of this would affect me in any case, despite local roads still breaching pollution limits.

I wouldn't go quite as far as a blanket ban; I think charges are reasonable (basically to make petrol cars cost about as much as leasing an EV, say, but not forcing up-front massive expenditure). But at the moment we seem to be in this bizarre land in which the only changes that happen are those which don't feasibly affect anyone.

Suggesting that someone who can't afford to buy a new car probably shouldn't be driving around London is seen as political suicide.

That’s because a 15 year old petrol car (Euro 4) is almost always better than even a 3 year old diesel car (Euro 6):


And 15 year old diesels are terrible. Banning dieselgate-era diesels is overwhelmingly the most important policy. Only RDE (Real Driving Emissions) diesels are ok, and under EU rules RDE has only come in during the last year or two, and even now is quite lax.

Diesels will only be fully required to fully meet the pollution standards under real world driving conditions within a year or two, and only then will be roughly equivalent to petrols built from 2004 onwards.

And the current mayor will probably lose office next month to parties that have promised to remove said restrictions, because in Spain hardly anyone cares about breathing poison. Sadly, being able to take and park cars everywhere seems to be a much higher priority for much of the population (I say this as a Spaniard).

My hope is that the EU somehow intervenes and stops them from taking steps back in this respect. As mentioned in the last paragraph of the article, reducing emissions is an EU mandate. The EU has often been the force behind many, if not most of, the anti-pollution policies adopted in Spain.

Carmena is the best thing that has ever happened to this city, precisely because she is always trying to do what's needed not what's convenient. Sadly, there are populists and selfish people everywhere around the world like vultures trading our long term well being for their own short term gain.

Can you name some of the good things she has done, besides her populist large "refugees welcome" sign on a public building and this badly thought plan that essentially moves traffic from the center to more residential areas?

I don't figure how a "refugees welcome" sign is a populist thing in the current political climate. The opposite phrase would surely be.

Trying to appeal to a large group on the basis of emotion is surely populism.

1. We welcome you, despite 14.1% unemployment rate in the country (probably higher), whereas a large portion of jobs are part-time and another large portion of full-time jobs pay minimum wage.

2. We welcome you, although we know you'll end up on the streets.

3. We welcome you, although we can't, but might this serve as motivation for your deadly journey ("efecto llamada").

4. We welcome you, at least we say, so now we can pat ourselves about how good we are.

The opposite is reason.

That's it, but not all of it. Saying that in Spain hardly anyone cares about breathing poison is just plain defeatist.

This map [1] shows 2015 results for the municipal elections in Madrid. The center is just one small part of the whole thing. Sadly, it takes a lot more to convince everyone. There's plenty of people on that map that hardly ever visit the center.

[1]: https://e00-elmundo.uecdn.es/assets/multimedia/imagenes/2015...

> Air quality in the center has also improved, with pollution falling by 8.9% compared to the historic average for the December-March period, according to measurements taken from the Plaza del Carmen monitoring station, the only one located within the Madrid Central area.

8.9% ? Is a significant difference? Was the previous more polluted air any dangerous to breathe comparatively to all other daily risks people face? What are the absolute values of each pollutant instead of reporting everything in percentages and how do they compare to the usual EU limits for the definition of clean air? How does Madrid compare to Paris, London, Frankfurt, Berlin?

There are so many questions to ask before taking action on this kind of things.

And that's the center alone. How much of the traffic that used to be routed through the center is now polluting other regions of the city?

> 8.9% ? Is a significant difference?

Yes, but how much of it is due to improvements in newer combustion engines and new EU-wide emission norms?

The improvements would have to be either massive, or the fraction of new cars on the road would have to be much higher than I'd expect.

This baffles me. The government is there to serve the people. People are unhappy about what the current mayor is doing, that's why she's getting kicked out. Advocating for the EU to step in and force people to stay unhappy will only increase the anti-EU sentiment, but I guess the cat is out of the bag on that one.

The government IS serving the people precisely by putting in place measures to improve air quality.

Most of the backslash against Madrid regulations is coming from people that don't live in the center of the city and are using the issue as a proxy to voice their political views against the mayor's political party (affiliate to left-leaning Podemos).

Funny thing is that this measure was for the longest time in the previous mayoral team (under control from right-leaning Partido Popular) agenda as well.

On the anti-EU sentiment. I think it's important to point out that 62% of Spaniards (and rising since Brexit started) have a favorable view of the EU (according to Pew Research). Eurobarometer is also showing highest support for the EU in 35 years.

Pretty much any city in EU has now some forms of traffic restriction policies. The same is true for where I live as well.

The issue is not really the restriction, but the lack of alternatives. Very few cities have a decent metro zone: these cities are the only ones where I see no objections to stricter traffic policies.

Most cities are only served by public _road_ transport services. This doesn't have the same level of service, by a long shot. There's a huge, _huge_ difference between having to plan your move in 1hr intervals and just hop on a platform having to wait no longer than 10 minutes. Not to mention the cost, inevitable delays due to traffic, shorter service hours and so on.

I would ban all cars tomorrow and sell mine too if I could get anywhere in a metro. Reality is, this is only feasible for very few selected places.

The governments here should make public transport massively better first. The reality is that they just enforce restrictions and provide no alternatives. What do you do then?

Yeah, thanks for this comment. That's what makes this matter worse: they restrict private transport, but public transport just gets worse and more expensive every year.

At least for the Madrid metro, they have what I consider to be one of the most accessible and convenient public transportation systems I've used. And compared to Indianapolis, where I currently live, Madrid's public transport makes what we have here an embarrassment.

Madrid public transit is pretty comprehensive, but not particularly cheap or accessible. The rail is a bit archaic to use (single use tickets require source and destination stations despite being mostly one fare zone), station layout is fairly confusing at the bigger stations IMO. Perhaps most importantly, the stations are often pretty deep requiring a lot of waking -- not a problem if you're able bodied though.

I didn't use the bus system at all so I can't comment there. Barcelona in comparison has fairly easy to navigate stations and a much friendlier fare system.

Pretty much any European public transport is miles ahead of what most us cities have to offer.

The city where I work has slashed public transport prices, -40% for me, as part of a package to combat pollution exceeding EU regulations.

In several places where I lived the public transport road service was subcontracted to the lowest-bidding private company of the region.

This in turn creates this shitty illusion of "public" service that nobody wants to use, because:

- it's unreliable (delays and strikes are common) - short working hours - poorly planned (or no) interconnections with other public services - abusive service costs to recoup the costs

Even factoring all expenses of a car, several bus connections I was forced to take in the past where in the order of 5-6 times the total cost of car ownership. This doesn't even include the grave annoyances I listed above.

Sad :(

>In several places where I lived the public transport road service was subcontracted to the lowest-bidding private company of the region.

They are required to do so by law.

And this is a problem. Lowest-bidder-wins always creates a race to the bottom.

At least in the province of Venice, there was a complicated set of rules to pick between bidders of public contractors - so the law is certainly not universal in this regard.

If I recall correctly, it was based on percentiles instead of taking just the lowest bidder in an attempt to avoid companies racing to the bottom.

This in turn created a system where winning ad these bids was mostly by chance, and unsurprisingly was found to be rigged several times. But I digress...

I think the actual (EU) law is closer to "best suited". You have a number of offers to select from and have to say why you chose that offer. Saying "I chose them because they were the cheapest" is the easiest and safest solution so that's what usually happens, but it's not the only option.

You have to pre-declare how you choose the best offer. Final procurement order is oftentimes made into existence after many rounds of rejection by procurement overseeing committee.

Not quite, but they have to justify the choice to use a service that costs more.

This article talks about the improvements Madrid made to its public transport system. Are you guys talking about in general or specifically in Madrid?

It should be mentioned here that in the case of Madrid, the metro is managed by a rightwing party who intentionally reduced the amount of trains when the car restrictions started, in order to cause discontent. See https://www.publico.es/politica/madrid-central-arranca-madri... (sorry for the link in Spanish).

I’ve tried going over the article and cannot find any mention to any right-wing party intentionally reducing the amount of trains. I should disclose that Spanish is my mother tongue.

If anyone wants to pour over the article and explain it to me: EMT is the TfL of Madrid, Mayor's office is left-wing, Regional government is right-wing.

Sorry, the article doesn't mention that the regional government is right-wing (my fault), but it does say this: "Sin embargo, en lugar de reforzar el servicio, como prometió hace un mes el presidente del Gobierno regional, Ángel Garrido, la frecuencia de los trenes se ha visto mermada".

I wonder what happens in places where private transport isn't restricted.

When we introduced speed limits, people were protesting. When we introduced catalytic converters, people were protesting. When we banned smoking in busses, people were protesting. When we banned smoking in restaurants, people were protesting.

Quite often, the people don't know what's good for them. That's we generally don't have direct democracies.

The government is also here to take into account the work of scientists & urbanists and lead the people towards a better, healthier and sustainable future.

That is a very complicated statement. People have a very short time horizon as a whole. Politicians that promise to take the short, easy answer are usually ignoring long-term consequences. That leads to a -kind of- populism.

Note: I'm not saying I'm in favour or against Madrid's Mayor, nor her policies.

The lifes of the few outweigh the convinience of the many. You are effectively arguing that because the majority wants to freely poison a minority (causing lung cancer and respiratory diseases), the major can't pass restrictions against that. This is a great example why a democracy has to have more principles than "what the majority decides goes".

You can't have democracy and consumer capitalism and at the same time save the planet from climate catastrophe. It simply won't work. This is what Naomi Klein is trying to tell us.[1]

At more practical level getting financing for better public transport needs providing forecast of revenues. And it does not justify investments in public transport as long as people use cars, ubers, taxis etc. And people will continue choosing personal convenience over the prospect of having grandchildren living on planet Earth.

Tough choice for elected politicians.

[1] http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2018/08/capitalism-killed...

I think that's over pessimistic - we have lots of environmental laws and mostly fixed the ozone hole and lead pollution. CO2 emissions are tricky as so much of the economy used fossil fuel and the top four emitters being China, India and Russia as well as the US you can't stop it without getting those on board. It's not impossible though.

Recalls & reversals generally seem to very selectively incite the fringe. The center figures the matter is settled, and the very edges come in and undo it. So I personally tend to see recalls & reversals especially (except in cases of e.g. corruption, criminality, incompetence) as the will of the fringe, not the will of the masses.

Colorado is kind of an example for me. In 2013 the right mobilized over just-enacted gun control laws and recalled a number of Democrats, turning the majority to the right. But then in the general elections of 2018, everything went back to the Democrats again.

> The government is there to serve the people.

I think you could ask twenty people about what does this mean and you’ll get twenty different shades of ‘serving the people’.

Would you say the same about regulations against smoking?

Definitely I would. As a restaurant owner I should be able to dictate who can and who can't smoke in my premises. Having said that, cigarettes should be much more expensive so we can fund healthcare.

Smokers are actually cheaper for the healthcare system because they die early and don't require years and years of intensive medical care during old age.

People act against their own self-interest all the time (e.g. the modern Republican Party in America).

Spain is by far the least anti EU country in the EU. Also, it is a matter of who enforces pollution policy: Madrid is a city with limitations, Europe on the other hand is able to dictate directives.

On regards to the elections, let's see if she gets kicked out.

> Spain is by far the least anti EU country in the EU

No. In the latest Eurobarometer, confidence in the EU is one of the lowest in Spain. 54% of respondents do not trust the EU, vs. e.g. 21% in Lithuania or 31% in Denmark.


However, in the same document you can also see that Spain is the second EU country with the most positive image of the European Union, second only to Sweden (page 10).

When asked about membership in the EU, the answer is also more positive than average, although in a more modest 9th place (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/at-your-service/files/be-heard... page 37).

So it depends on how you ask. I would say saying that Spain is the least anti EU country is quite an overstatement, but it's definitely more pro-EU than average.

I think the results of the question on trust may be biased by the fact that Spanish people don't trust politicians in general. In page 6 of this Eurobarometer survey (https://ec.europa.eu/spain/sites/spain/files/eb88_nat_es_es.... - sorry, in Spanish, I couldn't find it in English) you can see that while trust in the EU is not very high, it's quite higher than trust in the Spanish government. So most people wouldn't want to leave the EU.

Isn't it interesting how we opinions on the lives and decisions halfway across the world- Despite not living there and understanding the complexity of life.

I'm an Environmentalist, but whenever I hear about government imposed solutions, I imagine someone's life is terrible.

-Elderly folks have a significantly harder time getting necessities

-Emergency vehicles take longer due to traffic

I won't go on, because I won't pretend I understand life and culture in another country.

This reminds me of the question a Lawyer said they debated- Does the world need a Tyrant to stop Capitalism from destroying the earth, or is Freedom the way?

See other threads for details on the actual program. The restrictions are pretty moderate and have exclusions for local residents etc.

That is a cop-out.

People from halfway around the world call it 'moderate'.

The air in cities are getting dirty mostly due to diesel car emissions. In order to save the planet from global warming a lot of diesel cars has been sold in Europe due to lower co2 emissions. They were sold as clean diesel cars but were not really clean emitting a lot nox/pm2.5 small particle emissions. The small particles are a danger to public health. It is time we go fully electric/hybrid car in the cities or remove cars from the city centers all together. I do not think a car drivers in cities has the right to pollute the air quality that pedestrians breathe.

It may be two steps forward one step back but we're step by step cracking the urban mobility nut that bothered me the most in my teens. Rock on human powered city centres, I look forward to having my children enjoy them.

There are more choices than the extremes. But if those are the only choices offered, the citizenry may simply prefer more pollution over reductions in productivity or convenience.

That's not an irrational choice, unless your prerogative is that there's no value in personal transportation, which is extreme. I see that a lot, and it's a first cousin of the "if it just saved one life" argument, which erroneously assumes there's no value in any other perspectives.

Nothing comes without cost. Even public transit has consequences, and at least in the USA, it's far less "clean" than commonly believed.

The plan as implemented in Madrid isn't very extreme though. There is a long list of exceptions for getting into the restricted zone, including going into a public parking lot.


So, what I get from that is that they made sure it won't be a problem for anybody rich.

I would be angry if my citie's government imposed a restriction with such a list of exceptions.

I still have to see a workable plan for emissions reduction that the rich cannot circumvent (except banning cars altogether, which would create outrage).

Tax entering the city center? Not a problem for the rich, who can pay easily. Tax cars depending on emissions? The same. Allow electric cars only? The rich have money to buy a Tesla. Allow only even or odd license plates depending on the day? The rich can buy two cars, one with odd and another with even license plate. Allow entering only if you use a paid public parking lot? The rich can pay for that. Disallow non-residents? The rich can buy a flat in the center.

Let's not fool ourselves, saving the planet and people's lungs mean that some things that are now widely reachable have to become scarce. And however we frame it, elites will always have better access to scarce resources. Still, I'd rather save the planet and my lungs than do nothing. And we can always tax the rich more to compensate.

A tax for entering the city center would be much more equitable.

My expectation is that this one plan creates exactly such a tax in practice, but it's privately collected by the few people rich enough to own land there.

They didn't block all personal transport, only most no-local vehicles. I would be a lot more convinced by the pro car arguments if they debated the actual issues. No one is saying destroy all cars and roads, the argument is on the importance of the car in the general transit system.

There is a very large and quite vocal "ban cars" contingent on Twitter.

I'm not personally a fan of how much the US prioritizes car transport, but I do see the utility of personal transportation.

Personal transportation doesn't have to be a three ton hunk of steel.

Good. I visited Spain a couple decades ago and by far the craziest amount of smog I witnessed was in Madrid. I would be sneezing black stuff by the end of my couple days there. Really hope they get it cleaned up because it's such a neat city.

Something people have to know is that these rules affect only the center of Madrid and traffic has been severely restricted in the Gran Via. Traditionally, this has been an important route to get from one side of the city to the other. So what this means is this traffic has moved somewhere else and that's why you see such a small drop in CO2 emissions in the city as a whole. Ironically, few families live in the center, so this might end up worsening the problem in residential/family areas.

Now closing the Gran Via and surrounding roads is problematic for various reasons. For example, the most important museums and cultural activities are in this area.

Just force all the manufacturers to fix their dieselgate cars. Is anything actually being done about it or are they too worried that this will bankrupt the car companies?

It’s a lot harder to do when it will bankrupt your local car companies.

Carmena is communist, an "elpais" is a leftist newspaper. They are partial and you can not trust them on this. Specially now that we are under elections.

An 8% difference with last year is nothing in Madrid. Madrid has big differences in pollution depending on what it rains, and specially on the wind. Pollution is bad there when there are anticyclonic weather and thermal inversion.

Madrid has very clear skies, it is like Denver,Colorado. The near mountains filter the low clouds. So at night most heat is radiated, making inversion frequent.

Carmena has created chaos in Madrid, an enormous congestion, just ask any taxi driver. I talked with people in the Politecnic University in Madrid in Winter and some levels of pollution were higher this year than last one(last year rained a lot so it was very clean).

I'd bet those numbers have been cooked to make Carmena look good. Most of the traffic goes now around the perimeter created and those places are way worse than last year.

In Spain most of the Media is controlled by the left and now also the leftist Government, that directly controls public Media(In Spain public Media depends on taxes, not like the BBC or Media in Europe).

Carmena is not a great technical person. She acts on feeling and ideology. Facts care very little to her.

> She acts on feeling and ideology. Facts care very little to her.

A prior lawyer, judge and member of the General Council of the Judiciary – with a total judicial career of 29 years – cares not for facts?

You know Spain too little my friend!

No seas condescendiente. Me rindo que ella no es perfecta pero por favor si queréis que creamos que sea una idiota total a quien no le importan datos y tales, haznos el favor de explicar y dar mas ejemplos. Y no me parece justo darla por perdida por lo del tráfico, si eso es lo que pasó.

Sure... a Watergate-level scandal has just emerged with the Interior Ministry using the police to spy on Podemos (the leftist party), including stealing mobile phones and hacking cameras, and to manufacture fake news. Some international coverage here (including from the Telegraph which is not precisely suspicious of being "pro-communist"):



Most media in Spain are not saying a single word about this, with others relegating it to small mentions, but Spanish media is controlled by the right and is pro-"communist". Yeah, right.

It's totally respectable to have a right-wing ideology, and there is plenty to criticize in the left. But seriously, if you are educated enough to be posting in an international website like this, you shouldn't be falling for obvious propaganda and spewing our local media's brainwash. Regardless of ideology, no one with a shred of neutrality, critical spirit or care to check different sources can think that Spanish media are biased to the left, let alone towards Podemos and their allies whom are almost universally disliked by all media.

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