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The Green Life: A Surcharge for Smoggers

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May 05, 2014

A Surcharge for Smoggers

Traffic congestion in MadridIf you live or work in a big city and scratch your head any time you see a driver of a gas-guzzling SUV crawling through the concrete canyons looking for a place to park, you may be impressed by Madrid’s new plan to charge higher parking rates for vehicles that pollute more than average.

Scheduled to be implemented in July, the scheme will charge electric cars nothing to park, hybrid cars 20 percent less than average, and diesel cars made in 2001 and earlier 20 percent more. (Spurred by tax incentives not seen in the U.S., diesel vehicles account for 70 percent of new cars sold in France and Spain. While diesels post admirable mpg figures, which reduces their greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline-powered cars, the story isn’t so cheery when it comes to their emissions of smog-forming pollutants such as nitrogen oxides. Older diesel vehicles are particularly noxious.) Madrid’s pricing will also vary depending on how congested a street is at any time of the day.

According to the Guardian, Madrid “continually exceeds the EU limit for nitrogen dioxide in the air – mainly released through car exhaust systems – with rates that have at times spiked five times above the limit deemed safe by the EU.”

It’s unclear how Madrid’s smart parking meters will identify a specific vehicle, whether using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology such as that used for electronic toll-collection systems, or by requiring a driver to punch in their license-plate number, but that’s not much of a hurdle with today’s smart parking meters. Already, San Francisco uses “demand responsive pricing” to raise and lower on-street parking fees based on congestion. And London has charged “congestion fees” for driving in central London on weekdays for more than a decade using plate-recognition technology.

--Image by iStock/scottyh.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”



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