Prague advances low emission zone plan for city centre
Low emission zones, where the worst polluting vehicles are banned from city centres, were first introduced in Germany in 2008 and have since spread rapidly there and across Europe. But the Czech Republic has so far stood apart from the trend. That now looks like it is about to change with the capital city taking a lead.
The basic plan is that the oldest cars which have the worst pollution record in terms of emitting poisonous fumes from their exhausts and small soot type particles which cause severe health problems, such as lung cancer, will be banned.
Jiří Nouza explains: “According to the study we have at our disposal, the improvement in emissions could be in the range of a few percent, it talks about two-five percent with regard to emissions and around 10 percent with regard to particulate matter. At this moment there are around 930,000 vehicles registered in Prague and the number of cars which would not correspond to the required production date according to this move would amount to around 30,000-40,000 vehicles. Like I said, residents and other eligible persons would be protected with exemptions.”
But the city council has not given its final approval to the move. With local elections looming in October, the current council dominated by the centre-right TOP 09 party, has decided to leave it to the voters and the next council to make the final decision with the possibility of the zone coming into force from January 2016.
The Czech capital, unlike the eastern city of Ostrava, does not suffer from poor air quality due to industrial emissions any more but exhaust fumes from cars and other vehicles are the main problem given the dramatic increase in the number of cars owned by Czechs over the last decade or two. In some places, the pollution does exceed the recognised limits which are regarded as safe. “It’s been the case that for a few years already we have not faced a smog situation, but the truth is that where road transport is concentrated, such as the Magistrale near I P Pavlova or Legerová and around Spořilov, the emission limits are exceeded. I don’t want to go into the exact percentages. We had a meeting last week in which the figures were presented and it’s the usual case that where transport is concentrated in towns and cities at a few key locations then the environmental conditions there are not the ideal to say the least. ”
Vít Masare is a spokesman for the Auto Mat. He says the low emission zone is not so much significant in itself. “All in all we can say that it is not a big deal and does not cover that many vehicles. But it does bring some change and point me in the direction of someone who would oppose the improvement of health conditions in the city. Yes, you can find people like that, but the health issues are among the first things to consider.”
But, for Masare, the emissions proposal is another sign that things are changing at Prague City Hall and that consideration is being given to broad planning for issues like transport and environment even though many problematic issues from the long lasting political domination of the capital by the Civic Democrats or ODS are still having to be addressed.
Masare says there are plenty of places where Prague can seek inspiration and areas where the city council can try and develop a more coherent transport policy. “If you want to talk about transportation as a sole topic, then what we are fighting for hard is that Prague would have some comprehensive plans, similar to plans that are obligatory for German cities, for French cities, and so on. Because at the moment Prague has no plans at all for what it wants to do. And these plans should deal with the fact that the inner city is dealing with an unbearable amount of individual automobile transportation for which we cannot simply inflate the city to get more space. So we have to think about other solutions. There should be a switch in the balance between road infrastructure, which has been dominant in Prague in the last 10 years, and instead, if the city wants to invest so much on transportation, then it should spend more on and promote means that are more sustainable in economic and environmental terms.
Prague council boss Jiří Nouza says he reckons the number of cars registered in Prague has now levelled out but the problems remain. One of his targets is to try and put some order in the capital’s rules for parking cars. As he says, most of the people come into the centre to park their cars and do whatever they have to. So far, the rules are a hotch potch with every local council doing its own thing. But that and other initiatives will have to wait till after the elections in around three months’ time.