Green Cities Fit for Life

Image by Ursula Bach

Madrid the first city in the world to apply sustainability criteria to parking

The city of Madrid has introduced smart parking meters that charge more for cars that have higher emissions and reduce parking charges for more efficient vehicles, with free parking for electric vehicles.

Since 1st July 2014, the cost of parking on the streets of Madrid is based on a scale related to the car’s engine type and the year of its manufacture. Electric cars park for free, hybrids pay 20% less than the base price to park, whilst cars with a diesel engine manufactured before 2001 face a penalty of 20%.

The system is the first of its kind in the world according to Mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella. “Vehicles with lower emissions will be subsidized, and the most polluting will be punished,” she said. It is hoped that the initiative will contribute to a reduction in air pollution levels which, to date, have consistently breached EU air-quality standards, in particular for nitrogen dioxide which is currently set at 40 micrograms per cubic metre. Madrid has previously recorded NO2 levels of up to five times above this safe limit.

City officials are hoping that car owners will opt to avail of public transportation or cycle into the city as a result of these higher parking fees. “Parking fees are one of the best ways to discourage motorists from driving into the packed city centre”, said Elisa Barahona, who heads Madrid’s sustainability division. “We thought it would be fair if the cars that pollute more pay more, and compensate those who use more efficient vehicles.” “Particularly for those who have cars that pollute, we hope that having to pay more will make people think twice before using them.”

The parking meters are part of a wider set of measures designed to improve the city’s air quality, she said, including energy efficient buses in the city centre and a bike-sharing programme. “Now with the economic situation improving a little, we have more opportunities to put all of our ideas in motion.”

The 2014 European Green Capital Copenhagen is finding various ways to discourage cars, especially for commuting. The area covered by parking charges has been expanded three-fold, and rules are in place to ensure that residents get priority access to spaces. The city is encouraging car-share schemes by reserving parking spaces for license holders. The Action Plan for Green Mobility includes a proposal for congestion charging, already introduced in Stockholm, which would have a great impact on traffic hold-ups as well as the climate, environment and emissions of the city.