What you need to know about Barcelona’s traffic restrictions

Polluting cars have been banned from the centre of Barcelona and drivers could now face a fine of up to €500.

What you need to know about Barcelona's traffic restrictions
Photo: AMB/ Cat

From September 15th Barcelona started issuing fines to the most polluting vehicles that enter its 95 km2 Low Emissions Zone (ZBE, or zona de bajas emisiones, in Spanish), after delaying the measure due to COVID-19.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is the ZBE?

The Low Emissions Zone (ZBE, in Spanish) is a 95 km2 area that covers all of Barcelona between the Ronda de Dalt and the Ronda del Litoral, as well as all or part of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Cornellà de Llobregat, Esplugues de Llobregat and Sant Adrià de Besòs. 

In Barcelona city, the neighborhoods of Vallvidrera, Tibidabo, Les Planes, and Zona Franca are excluded from the ZBE. 

High-pollution vehicles are now prohibited from entering the ZBE, and violators will be fined. According to Barcelona’s transport authority the ATM (Autoritat Metropolitana del Transport), the measure will keep 50.000 of the most polluting vehicles off the city’s streets. 

Which vehicles are affected?

The ZBE restrictions apply to petrol vehicles registered before 2000 and diesel vehicles registered before 2006, as well as motorcycles and mopeds registered before 2003. 

Depending on their level of pollution, vehicles will receive one of four environmental badges: zero emissions, eco, C, or B from the DGT (Directorate-General of Traffic). The most polluting vehicles (those that cannot circulate in the ZBE) will receive no badge. 

Are there exceptions?

Yes. Emergency vehicles like ambulances and police cars are permanently exempt, as well as vehicles for people with reduced mobility. 

Owners of personal-use vehicles that don’t qualify to enter the ZBE can request up to 10 yearly day passes. 

Vans, lorries, and buses will also be gradually affected, but have been given a longer grace period due to the higher cost of replacing larger vehicles. Restrictions will begin applying to them between April 1, 2021, and January 1, 2022. 

Photo: Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB), AFP


Timing and Time Restrictions

The ZBE traffic restrictions are in effect from weekdays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The ZBE was officially established on January 1, 2020, with sanctions for infractions scheduled to begin on April 1. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sanctions and fines were delayed until September 15. 

How much are the fines? 

Fines vary between 100 and 500 euros, based on the infraction and the type of vehicle. 

How can I get the badge?

Environmental badges can be purchased and collected at post offices. If your vehicle is registered in Spain, you can check your vehicle’s environmental badge here. Using the badge is voluntary, but municipalities can limit your vehicle’s circulation based on its badge. The badge costs 5€. 

What about vehicles with foreign registration? 

The same restrictions apply. But foreign-registered vehicles will not be able to obtain a badge from the DGT. If your car comes from a country with its own environmental classification (Germany, Austria, Denmark, France), you can use your badge from that country to circulate in the ZBE. You can see the equivalencies by country here and find out what restrictions affect you. 

If your car is registered in a country that does not have an environmental classification, you will need to register your vehicle with the Metropolitan Register of Foreign Vehicles, which you can do here

Why create a low emissions zone?

The ZBE was designed to reduce air pollution in Barcelona, which is well above EU quality standards and causes over 350 premature deaths each year, according to the Barcelona Public Health Agency. 

Residents willing to take their high-polluting vehicle to the scrapyard and commit to not buying a new one for at least three years qualify for a free 3-year transit card, the T-verde (T-verda in Catalan). 

By Sam Harrison in Barcelona



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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.