Hamburg has been stepping up measures to reduce air pollution by becoming the first German city to erect signs that will enforce a ban on older diesel vehicles on its major routes.
Following a ruling by Germany’s top administrative court in February that gave cities the right to restrict diesel cars, vans and trucks from their streets, Hamburg looks set to become the first to impose the ban this month.
Environmental authorities in the city said on Wednesday they had put up around 100 signs this week announcing the ban in two streets. The signs also provide directions for alternative routes for outlawed diesel vehicles.
A sign of things to come: Traffic signs which ban diesel cars have already been installed by workers in downtown Hamburg, Germany
It is still undecided how many diesel vehicles will be affected by the restrictions being implemented, but authorities said they expect the ban to be in place in May.
What’s still undecided is which diesels won’t be granted access to the two roads.
While some are pushing for all diesels that don’t meet the current Euro 6 emissions standards in 2014 to be prohibited, it’s likely that it will only be applied to vehicles that fail to adhere to the Euro 5 standard that came into play in 2009.
The final decision will be made by the country’s Federal Administration Court in Leipzig.
‘We expect to put the driving ban into effect in May,’ Bjoern Marzahn, Hamburg’s environment authority spokesman told Reuters.
‘Therefore, it’s necessary to receive a written statement of the ruling from the administrative court in Leipzig,’ he added.
Pressure has been mounting on German cities to reduce their localised pollution in order to meet legal clean air targets designed to curb the number of illnesses and premature deaths caused by emissions.
But while some have supported the ban on diesel cars in a bid to reach these targets, others have been more critical.
The signs will not only warn drivers of the ban but some will offer alternative routes to those using outlawed diesels vehicles (like the sign laid flat in this image with an arrow)
Environmentalists have criticised the measures as it says the diversions for older diesel cars will result in them being driven for longer and therefore produce more emissions than before
Environmentalists warned the measures will be futile because they target only selected streets where air monitoring stations are in place.
They also fear that the diversions will only prompt older car owners to drive longer distances, resulting in more toxic emissions being released into the air by ageing diesel vehicles.
‘There are only four monitoring stations in Hamburg and it is evaluated according to their results, although the European Union limits are breached in many parts of the city,’ Paul Schmid, spokesman for the Environment and Nature Conservation Association in Hamburg, said.
The federal court in Leipzig has promised to make a decision on the finer details of the ban by the end of this week, though no fines will be levied during the initial phase of the restrictions to allow drivers to get used to the no-diesel zones.
Germany’s Federal Administration Court in Leipzig will finalise the details of restrictions than can be put in place by cities. Hamburg wants the ban to be active from the end of May, though it won’t be fining drivers yet
Other methods to improve air pollution have also been considered in the German city, such as using electric buses for public transport.
However, officials concluded that a partial diesel ban would be the most effective solution.
‘We as environment authorities are responsible for air purity and it’s our responsibility to make sure inhabitants don’t get sick (because of pollution),’ Marzahn said.
‘I believe there is sympathy for this from car drivers.’
German cities will be the first to impose bans specifically for diesel vehicles anywhere in the world, though similar measures will be taken in Paris, Rome, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City before 2025.
While the UK has not proposed any outright restrictions as yet, Ultra Low Emissions Zones in London and Clean Air Zones across the rest of the country are widely expected to be put in place from 2019 that will target older diesels in particular.
The Government has already imposed higher taxes on new diesel cars in the first year from last month in an effort to reduce their appeal and encourage drivers to switch to greener vehicles.
However, speaking earlier this week, business secretary Greg Clark said there was still ‘a place for diesel’ in the future, and said new policy outlining the nation’s switch to electric vehicles in 2040 would still recommend diesels to some drivers in the short term.