Spain’s capital Madrid is set to introduce some of the world’s toughest anti-pollution laws. The laws include banishing cars from the the inner city on days of high air pollution and introducing strict speed limits on the city’s beltways.

To cut down on the criticism of the car banning, the city will make public transport entirely free on the days of the bans.

Madrid is considered one of Europe’s most polluted and congested capital cities, with the city getting an F grade in this year’s Soot Free Cities rankings. In winter, the dingy dome of dirty air that hangs over the city is referred to as La Boina – the beret – by locals.

The city’s new anti-pollution rules come after pressure from the European Union (EU), whose legal pollution limits are exceeded by Madrid on a regular basis. In March, city officials introduced a weaker, unenforced version of the new rules, but it wasn’t enough.
The new laws, although tough, are fairly clear – on any single day, when levels of nitrous oxide in central Madrid rise above 180 micrograms per cubic meter for more that two consecutive hours, a speed limit of 44 mph will be enforced on the city’s beltways. If this level continues for one more day, non-resident cars will be banned from inner Madrid.

If the nitrous oxide levels reach 200 micrograms per cubic meter, the laws get tougher – alternate driving days will be enforced for inner Madrid, where a third of the city’s residents live. On the first day, only cars with even number plates will be admitted to the inner city zone, and on day two only odd numbered plates. Taxis will only be able to enter the city zone if they are carrying passengers. On these days public transport will be free.

If nitrous oxide levels reach above 400 micrograms per cubic meter, which has yet to happen in Madrid, the car ban will cover the the entire city.
Those who oppose the laws say that the measures would cost $2 million a day and that the plan is not financially responsible, especially as Spain has never really recovered from the financial crisis. But while local environmental activists say that pollution causes 2,000 premature deaths in the city each year, city officials have no real choice other than to get rid of the beret.

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