Europe

These Parking Meters Know If You're Driving a Gas-Guzzler


These Parking Meters Know If You're Driving a Gas-Guzzler

Illustration by Braulio Amado

In Madrid, parking meters are joining the fight against air pollution. Starting July 1, newly installed “smart” meters in the Spanish capital will charge higher parking fees to vehicles that guzzle fuel or emit clouds of exhaust fumes.

After pulling into a parking space, drivers will be prompted to enter their license plate number on a keypad on the meter, which is networked into Spain’s vehicle-registration database. The meter then will set a parking rate based on the car’s age and model. Hybrids and other newer, fuel-efficient cars will get a discount of up to 20 percent, while older vehicles and diesel-powered models will pay a surcharge of as much as 20 percent, according to local press reports.

The system is the first of its kind in the world, Mayor Ana Botella says in a press release. “Vehicles with lower emissions will be subsidized, and the most polluting will be punished.”

Madrid began introducing smart meters in 2006 and now has about 4,000 of them. Until now, though, the city hasn’t made full use of their capabilities. Besides setting rates based on the age and model of a car, the meters now also will be used to discourage parking in congested areas. By linking with sensors that determine how many parking spaces are available in the area, they can be used to impose a surcharge for parking on streets where most spaces are already taken.

Madrid has a big problem with dirty air. It routinely breaches European Union air-quality standards, especially for nitrogen dioxide from motor vehicle emissions. City officials are hoping that owners of the most-polluting vehicles, when faced with higher parking fees, will opt to drive less and take public transportation more often.

Not everyone is convinced this will work. Mariano González of Ecologists in Action, a local environmental group, told the Guardian earlier this year that the system would unfairly penalize drivers of older cars. “Maybe you bought a large vehicle this year, say a sports utility vehicle. It could actually have higher emissions than an older, smaller car,” he said. González said the city was trying to appease EU officials who have threatened to impose fines because of Madrid’s poor air quality.

Matlack is a Paris correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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