28 Jan 20

Barcelona has Southern Europe’s largest LEZ

Since the start of this year, Barcelona has the largest low-emissions zone (LEZ) in all of Southern Europe. The LEZ covers 95 km2 of the city and its suburbs. 

Launched on 1 January, the LEZ (in Catalan: ZBE, for Zona de Baixes Emissions) will be in effect from Monday to Friday, from 7 am to 8 pm. The LEZ (in green on the map) covers the entire metropolitan area and the city’s outer suburbs but excludes the primary ring-road circling the city.

Grace period

After a grace period of three months (in which they will receive a notification instead of a fine), drivers of petrol cars registered before 2000 (i.e. before Euro 3) or diesel cars made before 2006 (i.e. before Euro 4) will be fined (€100-150) when entering the zone between these hours. 

The grace period extends to one year for delivery drivers and for people who can prove they earn less than €8,000 a year. About 150 cameras have been installed to help with enforcement. In practice:

  • Spanish cars entering Barcelona during the LEZ's hours of operation will need an appropriate eco-vignette: 0 (blue), Eco (blue/green), C (green), B (yellow). 
  • Foreign cars (i.e. without access to Spanish eco-vignettes) may only enter the Barcelona LEZ during its hours of operation if they have the appropriate permission, which must be obtained from the Barcelona city authorities. Access is limited to 10 days a year. An administrative fee of €2-5 will be charged. 
  • Drivers with a handicapped card are exempt from the restrictions. 

Air quality
Barcelona has consistently been in violation of the EU air quality standards since 2002. Between 2010 and 2017, poor air has been judged responsible for a yearly average of 424 premature deaths. 

But for Barcelona, the LEZ is about more than reducing pollution and improving public health. The measure is also designed to reduce traffic, and improve the liveability of the public spaces in the city centre. In that sense, the measure is an addition to the introduction of the first ‘superblock’ in 2016, whereby vehicle access was removed in nine city blocks and replaced with cycle lanes, play areas and green spaces. 

The LEZ is just one way in which Barcelona aims to reduce the number of cars on its roads by 125,000 within three years, and air pollution by a quarter in four years. Additional measures, such as a London-style congestion charge, may be brought in when the LEZ alone doesn’t help the city meet its targets. Barcelona currently counts six such ‘superblocks’, and 11 more are in the works. The city eventually wants as many as 503 ‘superblocks’ throughout the city.

Authored by: Frank Jacobs