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Driving in Spain: Which cities will get low-emission zones in 2024 and what rules change?

The Local Spain
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Driving in Spain: Which cities will get low-emission zones in 2024 and what rules change?
Madrid has some of the strictest low-emission zone systems in Spain. Photo: Jo Kassis/Pexels

The new year brings with it new low-emission zones for many cities in Spain, as well as rule changes and tighter restrictions in others.

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Low-emission zones started to be mandatory in 2023 for some municipalities as part of the Spanish government’s climate change and energy transition legislation.

The creation of these zones aims to help reduce air pollution in Spain’s urban areas by 2050, in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as to make sure vehicles are cleaner and more sustainable.

Low-Emission Zones or ZBEs (Zonas de Bajas Emisiones) as they’re referred to in Spanish affect those who have vehicles that do not have an environmental label. This means drivers should be aware of this system before entering certain urban centres.

READ ALSO - GUIDE: How to get an emissions sticker for your car in Spain

ZBEs are set to be mandatory in all Spanish municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, which includes 149 municipalities in the country.

In addition, those with more than 20,000 inhabitants that exceed the maximum pollution levels are also expected to create ZBEs.

Cities with low-emission zones

By December 2023, the number of cities with a ZBE already in operation was 21, only eight more than twelve months earlier.

Madrid and Barcelona already implemented these before they were mandatory, as did Pontevedra in Galicia.

The other cities that already have their low-emission zones in force include Seville, Córdoba, A Coruña, Pamplona, Zaragoza, Estepona and La Línea de la Concepción, as well as the Madrid municipalities of Rivas-Vaciamadrid and Torrejón de Ardoz.

READ ALSO: Why Spain's cities have to become more pedestrian and bike-friendly in 2024

On January 1st, 2023, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge gave the municipalities on the ZBE list a period of 18 months to implement these zones, as stated in the corresponding Royal Decree.

According to the latest assessment carried out by the central government however, only 11 percent of the cities required to have low-emission zones have so far implemented them.

There are 15 municipalities that have not complied with the law and many more that have not yet developed plans at all.

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Cities in the process of creating ZBEs in 2024

The main cities that are currently in the process of creating and implementing these zones, which will potentially be operational sometime in 2024, are Lugo, Valladolid, Bilbao, Girona, Cáceres, Málaga, Melilla, Palma de Mallorca and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. There will likely be more municipalities that announce plans soon, in order meet deadlines.

There are also 33 cities that delayed the implementation of their ZBEs. Some of these ZBEs are being prepared and will likely come into force this year.

Nevertheless, some Spanish towns and cities have actually suspended or reversed the regulations including Lorca, Valencia, Gijón and Castellón de la Plana, among others.

You can find out which Spanish municipalities have low-emission zones or are planning them on the website of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge

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New ZBE rules for 2024

As well as new zones being implemented in various towns and cities, those with established ZBEs such as Madrid and Barcelona will have a new set of rules to abide by.

As of January 1st, 2024 in Madrid, a new phase is in force, which prohibits some vehicles from entering and driving throughout the entire municipality of Madrid. This means all cars that do not have a label or that are not registered to do so, will be prohibited from driving.

Exceptions include trucks, vans, motorcycles and mopeds; as well as vehicles registered and domiciled in Madrid for the DGT (General Directorate of Traffic); those belonging to people with reduced mobility; or those classified as historical with the DGT.

Up until June 30th 2024 there will be a warning phase with no fines handed out across the municipality. But for anyone who enters the M-30, this warning period will end on January 14th.

In Barcelona, vehicles without an environmental label will not be able to enter the low-emission zone on weekdays, Monday to Friday, from 7am to 8pm.

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