Lonely Planet Writer

Barcelona is tackling air pollution with the biggest car ban ever seen in Europe

Barcelona is fighting against the problem of air pollution by banning older, higher-polluting vehicles from the roads. From 1 January 2019, owners of cars registered before January 1997 and vans registered prior to October 1994 will not be allowed to drive them on weekdays.

The Famous Summer Park Guell over bright blue sky in Barcelona, Spain.
The Famous Summer Park Guell over bright blue sky in Barcelona, Spain. Image by Shutterstock

These measures are designed to cut traffic emissions by 30% over a period of 15 years. In addition, from 1 December this year those same vehicles will be banned from the roads on days with high pollution.

The scheme goes further than those introduced in other European cities like Madrid, Paris and Athens because it moves beyond the city centre to cover a wide area – the ban will be imposed in Barcelona and 39 surrounding municipalities, affecting 4.3 million of the region’s five million residents. It is a joint venture between local and regional governments and other metropolitan bodies, showing a level of support across the region that has not been seen in other cities.

The ban will affect 106,000 cars – 7% of Barcelona’s total – and 22,000 vans (16% of its total). To soften the blow for the affected motorists, the government is offering them three years’ free public transport if they agree not to buy another high-polluting vehicle in that time.

Barcelona’s council said they aim “to reduce emissions by 10% over the next five years to gradually reach the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation and accelerate the adoption of more intensive local measures in order to reach the levels set by the EU before 2020.” The council have also pledged to build a new observatory to monitor air pollution, and are considering the introduction of a congestion charge zone and a fuel tax to fund public transport.