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TRAFFIC

What you need to know about Barcelona’s new ‘ZBE’ traffic restrictions

Thursday January 2nd saw Barcelona launch the long anticipated restriction on traffic in the centre of the city known as the Low Emissions Zone (ZBE).

What you need to know about Barcelona’s new 'ZBE' traffic restrictions
Photo: vichie81/Depositphotos

Here’s what you need to know:

What is it?

It is a traffic restrictions scheme aimed at reducing emissions and therefore pollution levels within the urban centre of Barcelona by blocking high polluting vehicles except those belonging to residents living within the zone.

It is predicted to affect 85,000 cars and 30,000 motorbikes by reducing traffic  by 15 percent that will see more people choosing to use public transport.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (ATM) in the Catalan capital estimates that there will be a total of 170,000 extra journeys on buses and trains each day.

Where is it?


Photo: AMB/ Cat

It affects an area measuring 95 km2 covering the entire municipal area of Barcelona (excluding trading estates of Zona Franca, Viallvidrera, Tibidavo and Les Planes) as well as the surrounding areas of ​​L ' Hospitalet de Llobregat, Cornellà de Llobregat, Esplugues de Llobregat and Sant Adrià Besòs.

READ ALSO: How to save money on your Spanish electricity bill in 2020

What vehicles are affected?

Residents with cars registered within the restricted zone are exempt, as are those who drive vehicles with low emissions represented by DGT environmental stickers.

DGT environmental labels

The DGT (Dirección General de Tráfico – General Direction of Traffic) introduced environmental labelling for cars in 2016 which classified vehicles depending on their environmental impact.

This was designed to make it easier for authorities to restrict the worst polluting traffic during environmental alerts.

The labels will now determine who can access ZBE and how.

It affects diesel cars made before 2006 and petrol vehicles made before 2000, as well as motorcycles made before 2003.

Depending on its pollution level, a vehicle can be labelled, from more to less environmentally friendly, as 0, Eco, C, B, all of which are allowed access to ZBE.

Those cars not eligible for a sticker are classified as A and have an outright ban (unless they are registered to residents).

Check the DGT website to find out the classification of your vehicle just by introducing the license plate number.

When are the restrictions?

The ZBE is in place between the hours of 7am and 8pm on working days which means you can still drive into the city at weekends, bank holidays and out of hours during the night.

How is it controlled?

The first 36 fixed cameras have been installed across the restriction zone clocking license plates and cross-checking on the DGT and Barcelona City Hall database as to whether they have the correct DGT energy sticker or residence permit to drive within the zone.

Those caught on camera who are not on the database will be sent a penalty notice.

How to recognise the BZE zone:

New signs have been placed across the city to designate the BZE area and they aren’t easy to miss.


Photo: AMB/ Cat

The scheme has various stages to be rolled out. Penalty fines won’t kick in until April 1 although warnings will be sent to violators. For the first year restrictions are only placed on cars and motorbikes but these will be rolled out to include vans and trucks and buses by January 2021.

Fines

Fines will range from between €100 to €500 depending on the severity of the infraction and will be reduced with quick payment but they won't be issued during the first three months the restrictions are in place. Until April 1st those who enter the ZBE without permission will be sent a warning letter but after April 1st penalty notices will be issued.  

Can those without resident permits still drive into Barcelona?

If you have a low emissions car then yes, but those visitors who drive polluting cars can apply for up to ten permits annually to enter the zone, each one has a cost of €2.

In the case of a medical emergency that requires driving an authorised car within the restricted zone without applying for a permit in advance, drivers must make an application within 3 days of being in the zone.

Exemptions are also offered to those with reduced mobility.

What do you need to do?

If you are registered as a resident (empadronado) in the ZBE zone and the car is in your name, there is nothing to worry about. However, you will need to get a permit if you want to enter with a rental car.

All the information you need can be found on Barcelona City Hall's website.

Won’t this put pressure on Barcelona’s public transport system?

With so many extra users there is a fear that the already overcrowded public transport system won’t be able to cope. But the ATM has been working on improving services in the run up to the launch of ZBe by adding new stations and bus lines and improving cycle routes as well as introducing “park and ride” services into the city.

But not all are fully operational yet.

Woudn't a congestion charge be better?


Photo: AFP

Barcelona's far-left mayor Ada Colau (above) has raised the possibility of introducing a congestion charge like those in place in other European cities such as London, Stockholm and Milan.

Barcelona has since 2002 exceeded the level of airborne carbon dioxide set by the European Union, according to a 2017 report by the city public health department.

The city's poor air quality caused a yearly average of 424 premature deaths between 2010 and 2017, the report said.   

Last year Brussels asked the European Union's Court of Justice to take action against Spain for its “systemic violations” of rules limiting nitrogen dioxide emissions.

READ ALSO: How Barcelona residents are scrapping their cars for a free public transport public card

 

 

 

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For members

DRIVING IN SPAIN

Can the UK’s Blue Badge for disabled parking be used in Spain?

The UK’s Blue Badge scheme allows disabled drivers to park in special parking spaces closer to their destination, but can it be used if you're on holiday in Spain or living in Spain? The Local has spoken with the British Embassy in Madrid to find out.

Can the UK's Blue Badge for disabled parking be used in Spain?

The Blue Badge for disabled drivers issued by UK authorities features a symbol of a person in a wheelchair and should be displayed in the front of your car if you’re parked in a special disabled spot.

But can you use the same badge in your car in Spain?

When the UK was still part of the EU, these disabled badges for parking could be used throughout the bloc, but since January 1st 2021 when Brexit officially came into force, there have been some doubt regarding this. 

In other words, some disabled drivers visiting Spain who wish to rent a car or British residents living in Spain with UK disability cards are now uncertain as to whether their badges will be recognised here or not. 

In Spain, on roads and in car parks, parking places reserved for disabled people are marked with a wheelchair symbol.

The EU has its own parking card for people with disabilities and the recognition of the UK’s badge has always been an informal agreement between governments.

The advice from the UK government has always been for UK Blue Badge holders to check locally within the country they are travelling to, before using it abroad. 

The British Embassy in Madrid told The Local: “This advice did not change following the UK’s exit from the EU and to date no EU/EEA nation has specifically stated that it will not recognise a UK-issued disabled parking card”. 

However, the rules and advice are slightly different depending on if you are visiting Spain or living here. 

The UK government website states “You can use your UK Blue Badge when travelling in some European Union (EU) countries, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland”.

However, under the list of EU countries where you can use the UK Blue Badge, the UK government says Spain is “undecided” and asks drivers to check with the Spanish Embassy for more information.

This is causing a lot of uncertainty among UK Blue Badge holders and has sparked many debates on social media groups used by Brits in Spain. 

The British Embassy in Madrid has confirmed to The Local that: “Where the table states ‘undecided’, that doesn’t indicate that a particular nation has stated they will not recognise a UK issued parking card, merely that the UK doesn’t have a specific notification of reciprocity of the UK’s goodwill gesture”. 

This means that while Spain has not officially said that it will not recognise a disabled blue parking badge issued in the UK, there is no reciprocal agreement in place. 

While many British people visiting Spain say that they are continuing to use them without problem, others are reporting that Spanish authorities in some areas will not accept them anymore.

One member of the N332 Facebook group, (a group created by Spanish traffic police officers and volunteers) wrote: “To be honest I use my blue badge in Spain and it has not caused me any issues since Brexit. I think as long as a badge is displayed in the parking spaces no one will say or do anything”.

However, another commentator said that their friend was fined for using a UK blue badge in Spain.

According to the Spanish authorities, fines of up to €200 can be handed out for those who park in a disabled spot without the proper permit, although that’s not to say that a UK Blue Badge is not a proper permit.

So if you’re visiting Spain and have a disabled parking card, you should contact the local authorities first to find out if you can use your UK-issued parking card, otherwise you technically could be using it at your own risk and could be fined.  

In some places in Spain, you may find that authorities turn a blind eye, while in others may tell you that your badge is not valid.

Can you use your UK Blue Badge if you’re living in Spain?

The UK government website states: “If you have a UK Blue Badge and live in Spain, you must return it to the original UK issuing authority. You can apply for a new Spanish disabled parking card. The process is different in each region of Spain. Contact your local town hall or social services department for further information”.

So those who live in Spain should apply for the equivalent of the UK’s blue badge here. This is called the Tarjeta acreditativa de discapacidad or Tarjeta de grado de discapacidad, depending on where you live.

Examples of different disabled parking cards issued by Spain’s regions. Image: Fundación Once

The not-for-profit project Support in Spain warns that it can be a lengthy process to apply for the Spanish equivalent and that many have been waiting months or even years for their cards to be issued. This has left many foreign disabled residents in Spain in a difficult situation.

Another member of the N332 Facebook group wrote: “Why does it take so long to get a blue badge in Spain? My husband has advanced Parkinson’s and dementia. We have been waiting almost a year and our town hall tells me this is normal”. 

How to apply for Spain’s disabled parking card?

Firstly, in order to apply, you will need to make an appointment with your doctor in Spain to certify that you have a degree of disability that warrants a disabled parking card. Typically, applicants must prove that they have a disability of at least 33 percent in order to be eligible for the Spanish disabled parking card.

Your doctor may also need to refer you to a specialist. Getting this disability certificate, or reconocimiento de discapacidad as it’s called in Spanish, is the reason the process takes so long. This certificate is the same document you’ll need in order to apply for disability benefits in Spain too.

As mentioned above, the process of applying is slightly different, depending on what region of Spain you live in. Typically, you will have to go to your local Equality and Social Policies Department (Departamento de Igualdad y Políticas Sociales) or at your local town hall (ayuntamiento) and fill out the necessary paperwork.

This will then need to be submitted along with your disability certificate and any notes from your doctors, before your application can be processed. 

Those who are worried about how long the process will take should contact their local town hall to find out the average time frame in their area. 

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