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Madrid Central: Five reasons why scrapping anti-pollution traffic scheme is 'absurd'

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Madrid Central: Five reasons why scrapping anti-pollution traffic scheme is 'absurd'
Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
08:52 CEST+02:00
A plan by the new right-wing mayor of Madrid to effectively bin a landmark anti-pollution traffic restriction plan for the city centre has caused uproar and opposition to the announcement gathers momentum. Here's five reasons which explain the anger.
On Monday, newly-elected right-wing mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida (PP) began making good on his promise to get rid of the scheme known as Madrid Central by announcing a moratorium on the fines that enforce its restrictions on traffic in the city centre.
 
The backlash has been swift, as more than 150,000 residents have signed a petition calling on him to leave the pollution-reduction plan in place.
 
Children and parents from six central elementary schools were the latest to join the opposition on Wednesday as they protested wearing anti-pollution face masks.
 
The boss of Spain's road traffic department the DGT has called the idea “absurd” and “ridiculous”.
 
Green groups are promising legal action and even the EU is keeping an eye on the mayor and could launch legal action if pollution levels rise as a result of the new mayor's plan.
 
 
Here are 5 reasons why overturning Madrid Central may prove difficult:
 

Madrid Central has drastically reduced air pollution in the city center 

The federation of NGOs Ecologists in Action reported that readings of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant released by motor vehicles, had recently reached their lowest levels since records began in 2010 - an average of 22 micrograms/cubic meter. 
 
At 14 of the 24 pollution measuring stations across Madrid, the value recorded during May was the lowest in the last decade.
 
The only measuring station within the traffic-restricted area in central Madrid itself showed that pollution had decreased by 44% compared to May 2018.
 
These results demonstrate that Madrid Central appeared to be effective at reducing air pollution, and any increase in air pollution that occurs after its removal will be widely attributed to Martínez-Almeida.
 
 
Recently elected mayor of Madrid José Luis Martínez-Almeida. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP
 
The removal of Madrid Central could lead to EU sanctions against Spain
 
In December, EU Environmental Commissioner Karmenu Vella made it clear that Spain had avoided being brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union for exceeding nitrogen dioxide limits thanks to Madrid Central and other measures enacted to reduce air pollution. 
 
He also warned that the EU would be closely following Spain's progress in reducing air pollution, given that the air pollution in Spanish cities like Madrid and Barcelona still exceed European Union air quality objectives.
 
On Tuesday, EU Climate Action & Energy commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete (formerly of the PP himself) warned that the non-respect of air pollution standards would force Karmenu Vella to take action - meaning that Spain could find itself in front of the EU Court of Justice after all.
 
The coalition on which Mayor Martínez-Almeida depends does not agree about the need to revoke Madrid Central
 
José Luis Martínez-Almeida's party, the conservative Partido Popular (PP), was not the top vote-getter in the municipal elections that brought him to power. Outgoing mayor Manuela Carmena's Más Madrid party (left-wing) actually got the most votes, but Martínez-Almeida became mayor thanks to a coalition between the PP, Ciudadanos (liberal/centre-right), and Vox (extreme-right).
 
While Vox has been adamant about revoking Madrid Central - their General Secretary Javier Ortega Smith said on Sunday that “starting tomorrow, Madrid Central is over” - Ciudadanos' deputy mayor Begoña Villacís has assured that the municipal government was not going to get rid of Madrid Central, but only “remodel” it.
 
 
In order to go beyond the temporary moratorium put on fines starting July 1st, Martínez-Almeida will need to resolve the disagreements within his own governing coalition.
 
Madrid Central is popular amongst many madrileños
 
Wednesday morning, children and parents from at least six elementary schools protested against the revocation of Madrid Central by donning anti-pollution breathing masks and demonstrating outside of schools, making the morning news.
 
 
Meanwhile, a change.org petition asking the government to leave Madrid Central in place has gained more than 150,000 signatures, at least 50,000 of which have arrived since Tuesday. Supporters have taken to social media and newspaper opinion pages, drawing attention from around Europe.
 
In Europe, current trends favor restrictions on cars in city centers
 
Madrid's efforts to reduce pollution are representative of a growing movement across Europe to limit motor vehicle circulation in cities, encouraged by European Union air pollution standards and the fines that back them up.
 
In London, motorists must pay a “congestion charge” of £11.50 to enter the city center, and all vehicles entering the city will have to meet emissions standards beginning in 2020.
 
Vehicles in Paris must display a sticker indicative of their emissions, and those sold before 1997 are banned on weekdays. Additionally, the first Sunday of every month is car-free for much of the city from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
 
Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Rome, Milan, Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels, and Athens have all taken or are taking measures preventing certain vehicles from entering city centers to reduce traffic and pollution over the next 10 years.
 
By seeking to remove Madrid Central and its traffic restrictions, José Luis Martínez-Almeida's party is going against an EU-wide tendency towards limiting traffic in city centers. Unless he can find another way to continue to reduce air pollution in Madrid, it will be difficult for him to buck the trend.
 
 
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