When air pollution levels are high a protocol is activated which regulates municipal activity and reduces nitrogen oxide (NO2) pollution and particulate matter (PM10). The main sources of pollution in the city are private vehicles. During NO2 pollution episodes, access to the Low Emissions Zone is restricted for vehicles that pollute the most, meaning vehicles without the DGT environmental classification badge are not allowed to circulate in an area of over 95 square kilometres, between the Ronda de Dalt and Ronda Litoral ring roads.
According to the Barcelona Public Health Agency, air pollution causes over 350 premature deaths a year. Vehicles are the main cause. Barcelona City Council has an emergency protocol with measures and municipal operations to improve air quality and combat pollution. A municipal by-law will also make the Low Emissions Zone permanent as from January 2020.
When levels of NO2 and PM10 are above the stipulated volumes at the 14 air quality measuring stations in the city, preventative warning stages for pollution are activated and if levels increase further pollution episodes are declared. The episode for NO2 involves traffic restrictions in the Low Emissions Zone, an area of over 95 square kilometres around the city’s ring roads and adjacent municipalities.
Which vehicles will not be able to circulate?
The restrictions affecting vehicles without environmental classification badges issued by the DGT are as follows:
- Cars with petrol engines registered before January 2000 (before Euro 3) and with diesel engines registered before January 2006 (before Euro 4).
- Vans registered before 1 October 1994 (before Euro 1).
- Motorbikes and mopeds registered before 2003 (before Euro 2).
It’s not obligatory to display the badge on the vehicle, but it does make it easier for the City Police to check. The police use surveillance cameras on inbound and outbound city roads and within the urban nucleus to check number plates, with fines of 100 euros for any unsuitable vehicles circulating.
If you haven’t received a DGT environmental classification sticker, check if your vehicle qualifies and find out how to get one on the municipal Air Quality website.
Permanent restrictions from 2020 onwards
These restrictions, which currently only apply during NO2 pollution episodes, will become permanent as from 1 January 2020, from Monday to Friday, from 7 am to 8 pm.
When are restrictions applied for NO2?
Before a pollution episode, a preventative warning stage for NO2 is activated and if levels increase, Barcelona City Council declares a pollution episode via the city’s information channels and the free pollution e-mail alert service. Traffic restrictions apply as from the following day, from 7 am until 8 pm on working days.
Extra public transport and T-Aire ticket during NO2 pollution episodes
- Metro: An extra train will be put into service on each line during rush hours, meaning trains circulate at intervals of 3 minutes. In December, the 5% increase in service planned for this year will have been completed, meaning an extra seven trains in circulation during rush hours. During air pollution episodes, extra support staff will also be working in the busiest stations.
- Tram: Two double vehicles will be added on the T1 and T4 lines, with more services added on the T5 and T6 lines. Frequencies will be reduced by a minute, meaning trams every four minutes.
- Buses: An additional 50 buses will be laid on in the city. Thirty more vehicles will also be added to connect with the Baix Llobregat and the Barcelonès Nord, (fifteen for each). At the same time, an extra 25 buses will be added to the express.cat service. To streamline bus access and circulation, provisional bus lanes will be opened on the B-23 and on the Gran Via.
- FGC trains: Extra trains will be laid on. Trains on the Vallès and Llobregat-Anoia lines will maintain rush hour service levels throughout the day.
- Rodalies trains: Rush hour service levels will be extended until 11 am on the R1 and R4 lines.
- T-Aire: During pollution episodes, a multi-person travel ticket for two journeys will go on sale, with a 10% discount on the regular single journey price of a T-10 ticket. For instance, a two-zone ticket will cost 1,80 euros.
Which vehicles are exempt from traffic restrictions in the Low Emissions Zone?
Emergency vehicles (police, fire service and ambulances), vehicles for people with reduced mobility and essential services will be able to circulate in the Low Emission Zone regardless of which DGT sticker they have.
Tips for improving air quality in the city
Barcelona City Council recommends people get around on foot or by bicycle using streets with less traffic, or use public transport and avoid using private vehicles. Where no other alternative is possible, people are encouraged to share cars.
At the same time, people are also advised to regulate temperatures in their homes. Citizens who may be particularly sensitive to the effects of air pollution are advised to switch sports routines to different times of day, when pollution levels are lower.