Madrid is to introduce ‘smart’ parking meters that will charge more to drivers of heavily polluting cars, while offering large discounts to hybrid and electric car owners.
The move, which officials are claiming is the first of its kind in the world, is part of the Spanish capital’s plans to reduce air pollution levels, which continually exceed EU limits.
The new meters come into effect on July 1 and will see motorists negotiating a complex matrix of parking charges, governed by their car’s engine size and year of manufacture.
Hybrid cars will be offered a 20 per cent discount and pure electric cars will be exempt from parking charges altogether. At the other end of the scale, a diesel car made in 2001 will be subject to a 20 per cent mark-up.
"We thought it would be fair if the cars that pollute more pay more, and compensate those who use more efficient vehicles."
The city is particularly concerned about ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide, of which car exhausts are a major contributor. Levels in the area spiked five times above safe limits in recent years.
Authorities see parking charges as an effective measure of discouraging cars from entering the city centre. Speaking to The Guardian, Elisa Barahona, of Madrid’s sustainability division, said: "We thought it would be fair if the cars that pollute more pay more, and compensate those who use more efficient vehicles."
The smart parking meters will also be able to gauge how busy a street is and charge more to motorists parking on a street with few empty spaces remaining.
Madrid is also introducing energy-efficient buses and a bicycle-sharing scheme in a bid to encourage people to get out of their cars. "Now with the economic situation improving a little, we have more opportunities to put all of our ideas in motion," continued Barahona.
While eco-campaigners have largely welcomed the move as an effective measure of reducing traffic in the city centre, some concerns have been raised about the tariff system’s emphasis on a car’s age.
"Maybe you bought a large vehicle this year, say a sports utility vehicle. It could actually have higher emissions than an older, smaller car," said Mariano Gonzalez, of campaign group Ecologists in Action.
Do you think variable parking charges are a good way of encouraging the use of more efficient cars? Would you like to see the scheme introduced in the UK? Have your say below.