Photo: AP

Just seven months after going into effect, Madrid has placed a three-month moratorium on fines for most cars entering the city center as a new conservative government re-evaluates the policy.

In November, Madrid became one of the most progressive cities in the world when it came to car usage by essentially banning non-electric vehicles or non-resident cars from the city center unless they obtained certain permits or fell under a number of exceptions such as having private parking spaces, taxis, delivery vehicles, etc. If a car didn’t qualify for any of those exceptions, they were fined 90 Euros per entry.

But a new conservative mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, took power in May and, with a coalition including the far-right Vox party, is beginning to undo some of the previous administration’s progressive policies, including the car ban. Martínez-Almeida has also floated the idea of digging a new car tunnel through central Madrid, a spectacularly bad idea that CityLab noted has been floated for years but is impractical for a number of cost and engineering reasons.

Over the weekend, thousands of people marched in central Madrid to protest the reversal, largely on health and environmental grounds. Supporters of the low-emissions zone point to a study that found 48 percent lower nitrogen dioxide levels in the area in April as opposed to one year prior when the fines were not in effect.

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London followed Madrid’s lead by enacting its own low emissions zone, an increasingly popular scheme in large European cities that simultaneously encourages EV adoption and improves the health and quality of life of those in the city centers. And general car bans in city centers that apply to nearly all vehicles regardless of emissions are also becoming favored policy as politicians, regulators, environmental, and business groups are catching on to the fact that single-occupancy vehicles are an inefficient use of space in dense areas and increase pollution.

In Madrid, the low-emissions zone is not a particularly large area: 1,166 acres, or 1.82 square miles. By comparison, Manhattan is 22.8 square miles, so the central Madrid car ban affects an area roughly equivalent to Manhattan’s financial district at the southern tip of the island.

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MartĂ­nez-Almeida justifies his position with a refrain familiar to anyone who may have followed the congestion pricing debate in New York or any other city facing a similar policy proposal. Basically, he thinks the traffic has just been shifted to other areas and some downtown businesses have been hurt by the change. Other cities that have enacted car bans, congestion pricing, or any similar policy have typically found the opposite.

The fact that it affects a relatively small area with great transit connections and was one of the new administration’s first policies speaks to the fact that the reversal wasn’t really about any concrete goal, but rather, as one politician told the New York Times, “removing for the sake of removing.”