cómo funciona una zona de bajas emisiones

How does a Low Emissions Zone work?

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Reducing pollution is a pending issues for many cities. This fact was highlighted on a report issued by the consultancy firm Idencity, that analyzes the degree of compliance with environmental sustainability of Spanish cities, which stands at an average of 50.80%. At the top of the list, Madrid and Barcelona; at the bottom, Cuenca and Ceuta. Does your city pass or fail in sustainable mobility? 👎

With the new Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition passed, many municipalities are already working on improving air quality and achieving a healthier environment for their citizens.

In addition, municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants will also have to establish a LEZ if their air quality is deficient. In Catalonia, for example, in the third Summit on Air Quality, held on March 18, 2022, it was agreed that all municipalities of the autonomous community with that number of inhabitants must also have a LEZ, regardless of that climatic variable.

Nowadays, and according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), this measure affects 149 Spanish towns where more than 24 million people reside; that is 52% of the inhabitants of our country. You can check the list of cities here.

In this previous article, we talked about what a Low Emissions Zone is. Today, we are going to explain how the LEZs of Barcelona and Madrid work, as they are the largest for now, and also those that have been in operation for the longest time.

Señalización de la Zona de Bajas Emisiones de Barcelona // Àrea Metropolitana de Barcelona (AMB)
*Road sign of the Barcelona Low Emissions Zone // Barcelona Metropolitan Area
How does the Barcelona Low Emissions Zone work?

Last January 2020, the Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB) launched the Barcelona Low Emissions Zone, the largest in Southern Europe, with the aim of improving the air quality.


Barcelona’s ZBE Rondes is an area of ​​more than 95 km 2 that includes the city itself and the municipalities surrounding its ring roads.

In this area, that currently includes the entire municipality of Barcelona (except the Industrial Zona Franca and the quarters of Vallvidrera, El Tibidabo and Les Planes), the municipalities of Sant Adrià de Besòs and l’Hospitalet de Llobregat, and part of the municipalities of Esplugues de Llobregat and Cornellà de Llobregat, the aim is reducing the use of the most polluting private vehicles, progressively restricting its travelling.

Thus, vehicles without the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) environmental label will not be able to travel in these areas under certain circumstances, since they will be considered pollutant. Because of this, these vehicles will not be allowed to travel on working days, from Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The measure is applied permanently, throughout the year.

If you want to find out what environmental labels can travel though the Barcelona LEZ, ​​you can visit this page.

Clasificación de los distintivos ambientales según la DGT
*Classification of environmental labels according to the DGT.

Currently, the city of Barcelona has approximately 66 cameras installed to record and compare license plates information with the vehicle database of the DGT. In total, there are about 200 cameras distributed throughout the LEZ of the AMB.

How does the Madrid Low Emissions Zone work?

One of the most relevant aspects of the Sustainable Mobility Ordinance of the Madrid City Council, approved on September 13, 2021, consists on the creation of the so-called “Madrid Zona de Bajas Emisiones (ZBE)” (“Madrid Low Emissions Zone”).

The objective of all LEZs is the same: watch over citizens, protect them, and reduce the impact of environmental pollution according to the criteria of Law 34/2007, of 15 November, on quality of air and protection of the atmosphere, and the Royal Decree 102/2011, of 28 January, concerning the improvement of air quality.

In general terms, Madrid Zona de Bajas Emisiones (ZBE) consists on the organization of traffic in the 21 districts of the city. The entire municipal area of ​​the city has been declared as a LEZ, although traffic restrictions will be applied progressively from 1 January 2022 to 2025.

Señal de aviso de entra a Madrid Central
*Warning sign of entry to Madrid Central.

This area includes two Special Protection Low Emission Zones, Centro and Plaza Elíptica, where pollution problems are a major issue. In them, storekeepers will have the same access and travel rights as residents.

With this regulation, the Madrid City Council tries to give the same protection to citizens of the whole municipality, defining territorial rings with the progressive application of restrictions on the travelling of private cars, and always offering alternatives that may help to adapt to changes (pushing public transport and micromobility, free bus lines, grants or new infrastructures, etc.).

You can find more information on the website of the Madrid City Council.