Spain introduces congestion charges for city centre traffic

by Lorraine Williamson
congestion traffic

MADRID – With the approved new law for Sustainable Mobility, municipalities can now choose to make driving through environmental zones paid. This so-called city centre traffic congestion charge is already being applied in cities such as Stockholm, Oslo, Milan, and London.

Here drivers of motorised vehicles already have to pay to drive through the centre of the city. However, this does not apply to residents of the area or to deliverers. In London, for example, driving through the center costs €18 per day for all other motorists and motorcycles. This helps to prevent traffic congestion.

According to the Spanish Ministry of Transport, several municipalities had already requested to be allowed to introduce the congestion charge. This requires an amendment to the law, which was approved last Tuesday in the Council of Ministers. This legislative change applies to all Spanish cities. However, municipalities can choose whether or not to introduce this tax in low-emission zones. 

Environmental labeling 

Low-emission zones, ZBE in Spanish, are areas in city centers where polluting vehicles are kept out to improve air quality. The Spanish traffic service DGT has introduced a labeling system for this. All vehicles with a petrol engine from before the year 2000 and diesel vehicles from before 2006 will not receive an environmental label. As such, they can not enter the low-emission zones. Label B is for all petrol vehicles from 2000 to 2006 and diesel vehicles from 2006 to 2013. DGT will give environmental label C to all petrol vehicles from after 2006 and diesel vehicles from after 2014. All hybrid vehicles receive the label ‘eco’ and ‘electric’. Also, hybrid vehicles with more can drive more than 40 kilometres to get the label ‘cero’. 

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Currently, Spain only has two ZBEs, one in Madrid and one in Barcelona. According to the climate law, the 149 municipalities in Spain with more than 50,000 inhabitants must have introduced an environmental zone to reduce traffic congestion before the end of this year. 


London was one of the first European cities to introduce the congestion charge in the centre. This happened in 2003 with a rate of €5. It now costs all drivers of vehicles €18 to drive through the centre on working days between 7.00 am and 6.00 pm. However, a discount of 90% applies to residents in the centre. This measure has had the desired effect because in two decades the traffic reduced by more than a third in two decades. 

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The city council of Barcelona is considering the congestion charge if the current low-emission zones do not deliver the desired pollution reduction. The municipality first wants to complete the current ZBE plan. From 1 July this year, the ZBE rules will also apply to all buses and coaches. 

Urban mobility transformation 

The new Law for Sustainable Mobility and Transport Financing encourages municipalities in Spain to invest in sustainable transport such as the use of bicycles and public transport. “The new law should provide good alternatives to private cars and bring about a transformation of urban mobility,” sources from the Ministry of Transport said. 

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