FAQ

The air pollution

Does pollution affect us all equally?

There are some sections of the population who are especially vulnerable to the effects of pollution: children under the age of six, elderly people, adults with coronary or respiratory problems and pregnant women. These collectives are the main users of public transport, the ones who pollute the least but who are affected the most by pollution from high-polluting private vehicles.

 

 

Is Barcelona's air very polluted?

Like other big European cities (Paris, London, Berlin and Rotterdam), air pollution levels in Barcelona and its metropolitan area exceeds the established EU limits. More specifically, the most common pollutant in Barcelona is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), whose main source of emission are diesel vehicles.

What are the main air pollutants in the metropolitan area?

The most harmful pollutant today is suspended particles (PM2,5 and PM10), which are generated by hydrocarbon and biomass combustion, although they also come from dust caused by construction and demolition work, abrasion between tyres and road surfaces, vehicle brakes and natural sources (Saharan dust clouds).

The other very common pollutant is nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which often exceeds its legal safety limits. Its main source of emission is vehicles, particularly diesel vehicles (and the older they are, the more they pollute).

Other pollutants are present in Barcelona, although their levels do not usually exceed their public-health safety limits: tropospheric ozone (O3), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

See these infographics on the subject.

How does pollution affect our health?

It is one of the European Union’s main public health problems, causing 300,000 premature deaths every year. A reduction in pollution levels in the Barcelona conurbation, down to the thresholds recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) would prevent 659 premature deaths in the city every year and increase the life expectancy of the public by 52 days.

Polluted air affects the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. It also affects the immune and endocrine systems and our fertility, contributes to the appearance of asthma and diabetes, slows down the development of the brain in children and pulmonary development and generally reduces quality of life and life expectancy.

How is air pollution measured in Barcelona?

The City Council has an analysis centre for measuring the presence of air pollutants: the Barcelona Public Health Agency's Environmental Monitoring Services Department. It runs a number of stations that are part of the Catalan Air Pollution Monitoring and Forecasting Network (XVPCA). The Barcelona Public Health Agency produces reports on how the levels of these pollutants change over time.

What causes air pollution?

The concentration of pollutants in the air is mainly caused by vehicle traffic, followed by combustion, building work and other dust-producing activities, the industrial sector and the Port. Barcelona experiences occasional spikes in pollution, though the main problem is that the levels of suspended particles and polluting gases (PM10 and NO2) recorded daily are  continuously too high.

60% of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from traffic, 13% from outside the municipality, 8.3% from the industrial sector, 7.6% from the Port's emissions and 11.1% from other sources (heaters, combustion, etc.) Source: Barcelona Air Quality Improvement Plan. Barcelona City Council.

As for suspended particles (PM10), 71% is generated outside the municipality, 21% comes from traffic and the remaining 8% from other sectors (heaters and combustion), building work and the Port.  Source: Barcelona Air Quality Improvement Plan. Barcelona City Council.

 

How can I find out the city’s pollution levels?

The Air Quality website offers a map of the city with the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and suspended particles (PM10) recorded at each of these stations. It also provides air-quality “next day” and “day-after-next” forecasts for these pollutants. What is more, it also provides information on the main pollutants on municipal websites and social networks (Twitter @BCN_Ecologia).

All the data gathered by the Catalan Air Pollution Monitoring and Forecasting Network (XVPCA) based on automated and manual equipment located all around Catalonia are available on the Generalitat of Catalonia webpage.

If you would like to find out more, come and visit Barcelona City Council’s Environmental Education Documents Service, where staff will help you to find the material best suited to you. You will find resources for schools for conducting research on air pollution, material for associations and groups and documents for individual use.

 

Measures to improve air quality

Quines mesures s’activen per a cada escenari de contaminació?

En cada escenari declarat per la Generalitat de Catalunya, l’Ajuntament posa en marxa el protocol municipal d’actuacions, que contempla un seguit de mesures adaptat a cada cas. Només l’Episodi ambiental per NO2 activa el reforç extraordinari del transport públic (T-aire, etc.), la restricció de circulació de vehicles dins la Zona de baixes emissions de l'àmbit rondes de Barcelona i l’increment de tarifació en l’aparcament en zona verda per als vehicles no residents.

Vegeu quadre – resum

CONTAMINANT   Mesures que s’implanten segons l’episodi de contaminació
  Fase d’avís preventiu Fase d’episodi
Diòxid de nitrogen (NO 2 ) Comunicació a la població via canals interns i externs.
Activació de campanyes de sensibilització.
Comunicació a la població via canals interns i externs.
Implantació de carrils Bus en vies d’accés a la ciutat (B23 i C31Sud).
Reforç del transport públic amb aportació de tots els efectius disponibles.
Increment de la tarifació en l’aparcament regulat en calçada.
Permetre la circulació només als vehicles menys contaminants (dins Zona de baixes emissions de l’àmbit rondes de Barcelona).
Activació de les campanyes de sensibilització.
Partícules en suspensió (PM10) Comunicació a la població via canals interns i externs.
Actuacions sobre els serveis municipals i les obres: reg de parcs i places no asfaltats amb aigua freàtica, i increment del reg dels carrers amb aigua freàtica. Prohibició de l’ús de bufadors en tasques de neteja i verd.
Intensificació del control en el compliment del Pla d’ambientalització de les obres.
Activació de les campanyes de sensibilització.
Comunicació a la població via canals interns i externs.
Actuacions sobre els serveis municipals i les obres: reg de parcs i places no asfaltats amb aigua freàtica, i increment del reg dels carrers amb aigua freàtica. Prohibició de l’ús de bufadors en tasques de neteja i verd.
Prohibició de les activitats pulverulentes de les obres.
Activació de les campanyes de sensibilització.

 

What is an air pollution episode?

An air pollution episode is a situation where levels of atmospheric pollutants exceed the threshold values established by the European Union and recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and become harmful to people's health. Pollution in Barcelona occurs from excessive concentrations of suspended PM10 particles and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The Generalitat of Catalonia may declare an air pollution episode when thresholds of NO2 or PM10 suspended particles are exceeded inside the Special Atmospheric Protection Zone. Two stages are distinguished for each pollutant: Early warning stage and Episode stage, depending on the level of concentration of the pollutants recorded in the XVPCA’s environmental measuring stations and the forecasts for the coming days.

Early warning stage:
      1. NO2 Early warning stage
      2. PM10 Early warning stage

Episode stage:
      1. NO2 Episode stage
      2. PM10  Episode stage

 

How do I know whether a pollution episode has been activated?

Where the Generalitat of Catalonia declares a pollution episode, Barcelona City Council will inform its citizens of this through its own media (mail alerts, website, social networks, etc.,) and provide this information to the mass media.

This will come into effect at 7 am on the following day.  That way it will provide the necessary time for the public to be duly informed and for the public services involved in each case to be activated. When early warnings or pollution episodes will be desactivated this will come into effect in the same day.

Health and mobility advice in pollution episodes

Barcelona City Council provides the public with general advice in the event of a pollution episode. Despite the problems arising from air pollution, it is medically advisable for people to do regular sports activities, such as walking, running, cycling and swimming. The benefits of doing sport outweigh the possible harm caused by exposure to polluted air.

  • Get about on foot or by bicycle and use streets with less traffic.
  • Use public instead of private transport.
  • If you have to use a private vehicle, share it or combine its use with public transport.
  • If you exercise outdoors, do it at times when there is less traffic on the roads.
  • Regulate your home's air conditioning and avoid excessive heating or cooling.
  • Air your home at times when there is less traffic on the streets.
  • Start and stop your vehicle gently: that way you will reduce the emission of polluting particles.
  • Have your tyres adjusted to the pressure they need: this will reduce the emission of particles.

T-Air Card, Green Metropolitan Car and other discounts

In order to achieve a more habitable and healthy urban model, in which the most high polluting and harmful modes of transport are abandoned in favour of new, more sustainable mobility habits, the Barcelona's City Council and competent authorities are offering new public transport cards:

T-Air Card: This is an integrated multi-person 2-journey card  – from zones 1 to 6 – for use on the day it is validated. It will be sold in automated machines on days when an air pollution episode is declared. The price will include two journeys with the T-10 card, applying a 10% discount (for example, 1.80 euros for a zone).

Green Metropolitan Car: In exchange for a polluting vehicle, this card gives the holder the right to three years of free public transport on all Metropolitan Transport Authority transport systems. People from the Barcelona Metropolitan Area can benefit from these cards where they deregister and scrap a light diesel vehicle up to Euro 3 (manufactured before 2005), or petrol or gas vehicle up to Euro 1 (manufactured before 1996) and pre-Euro or Euro 1 type motorcycles and who do not purchase any new vehicle during the Green Card’s three-year lifespan. More information

More sustainable mobility: Help with buying low-emission vehicles; discounts on taxes, tolls and other mobility-linked fees; support for fleets.

Discounts on mechanically powered vehicle tax (IVTM) of up to 75%
Free regulated parking on roads (Green Area) and free charging at electric vehicle charging stations
Incentives to buy alternative energy vehicles aimed at the transport sector (taxi, goods transport) and for private use
Registration tax (vehicles for people with disabilities, vehicles with over 9 places, among others)
Discounts in tolls along the Generalitat's highways (free or with 30% discounts)
Access to Bus-VAO lanes

When do high-polluting vehicles have their mobility temporarily restricted?

As from 1 December 2017, where the Generalitat declares an air pollution episode caused by NO2, Barcelona City Council will activate temporary restrictions on the use of high-polluting vehicles within the Low-emission zone in Barcelona’s ring-road area.

As from 1 December 2017, the Generalitat of Catalonia will also be temporarily restricting the use of vehicles within the Area-40 low-emission zone (Euro 1 cars – before 1 January 1997, and Euro 1 vans – before 1 October 1994).

Where the Generalitat of Catalonia declares a pollution episode caused by suspended PM10 particles, no effects on mobility will be expected, although the City Council will apply greater control over, or even ban, dust-producing activities on public roads (public works, gardening maintenance work and road cleaning etc.).

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What are low-emission zones?

Three low-emission zones are expected to be introduced in the Barcelona conurbation:

- Low-emission zone in Barcelona's ring road area: this includes the entire municipal area, with the exception of Zona Franca and the Tibidabo, Vallvidrera and Les Planes neighbourhoods, and also covers areas from the surrounding municipalities of Sant Adrià del Besós, Hospitalet de Llobregat, Esplugues de Llobregat and Cornellà de Llobregat.

- Area-40 low-emission zone: made up of the 40 municipalities of the urban conurbation

- Metropolitan low-emission zone: corresponding to the area bounded by the municipalities in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area.

When will mobility restrictions become permanent for high-polluting vehicles?

As from 1 January 2020, Barcelona City Council will be permanently banning the use of high-polluting vehicles (without the DGT label) within the Low-emission zone in Barcelona's ring-road area.

As from 1 January 2019, the Generalitat of Catalonia will be banning the use of Euro 1 cars (from before 1 January 1997) and Euro 1 vans (from before 1 October 1994) within the Area-40 low-emission zone.

What criterion is being used for establishing restrictions on high-polluting vehicles?

Temporary and permanent restrictions on the use of high-polluting vehicles in Barcelona are based on the categorisation made of the vehicle fleet by the Directorate-General of Traffic DGT under the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s National Air Quality and Atmospheric Protection Plan for 2013-2016.

When do high-polluting vehicles have their mobility temporarily restricted?

As from 1 December 2017, where the Generalitat declares an air pollution episode caused by NO2, Barcelona City Council will activate temporary restrictions on the use of high-polluting vehicles within the Low-emission zone in Barcelona’s ring-road area.

As from 1 December 2017, the Generalitat of Catalonia will also be temporarily restricting the use of vehicles within the Area-40 low-emission zone (Euro 1 cars – before 1 January 1997, and Euro 1 vans – before 1 October 1994).

Where the Generalitat of Catalonia declares a pollution episode caused by suspended PM10 particles, no effects on mobility will be expected, although the City Council will apply greater control over, or even ban, dust-producing activities on public roads (public works, gardening maintenance work and road cleaning etc.).

Is my vehicle high polluting? The DGT's environmental label

The Directorate-General of Traffic (DGT) has classed the mobile fleet under five categories according to the vehicles’ polluting power, and issues five environmental badges.  The vehicles’ owners receive environmental labels sent directly from the DGT to their home. Only high polluting vehicles which fail to meet the minimum expected environmental requirements do not have a label from the DGT.

Check the DGT's environmental label for your vehicle in DGT’s website

 

 

What will be done to reduce pollution from vehicles?

The main measures for tackling this problem will focus on reducing motorised traffic, especially the older and more polluting vehicles. Studies are currently being carried out on a proposal to limit the entry of diesel vehicles that are over 20 years old (manufactured before 1996) in 36 of the metropolitan area's municipal authorities, from 2018 onwards.

It is estimated that this measure will lead to a 4% reduction in the number of vehicles travelling through the metropolitan area. This would mean 350,842 fewer vehicles travelling every day and 438,553 fewer journeys on an average work day, compared to current figures. This would be the first step towards the gradual elimination of the most polluting vehicles from the city's traffic.

Other initiatives are being studied, such as establishing a system of tax bonuses for less-polluting vehicles and creating urban atmosphere-protected zones close to sensitive areas such as schools and hospitals.

Furthermore, starting this year, the Directorate General of Traffic will require vehicles to display stickers that show their polluting potential, an initiative that will help with the implementation of these measures.

Are lorries, collective-transport and goods vehicles and special vehicles all affected by the restrictions according to their respective dates of registration?

As from the autumn of 2016, the Directorate-General of Traffic has been gradually labelling the entire fleet of vehicles under five categories, according to their environmental behaviour. The restrictions established by Barcelona City Council will gradually affect all vehicles under these categories.

Barcelona City Council established Euro 1, Euro 2 and Euro 3 motorcycles, lorries, coaches, buses and vans as exceptions in 2017.

 

Do other European cities have the same problem with pollution? How are they dealing with it?

Big population centres in Europe, such as London, Paris, Milan and Rotterdam, have a huge amount of traffic and therefore high levels of atmospheric pollution. As in Barcelona, most of these big cities have started to design various strategies for cleaning their air, and most of these measures involve traffic reductions.

Over two hundred cities from all over Europe have already marked out low-emission zones, with restricted access for the most polluting vehicles. Several cities in Germany and Great Britain, for instance, control the entry of vehicles through a system of coloured stickers that identify their pollution levels.

Do extraordinary measures for episodes provide a solution to the problem?

An the long term, the presence of effective structural measures will do away with the need for extraordinary measures, as it will reduce or even eliminate the pollution spikes that lead to declarations of pollution episodes. Current measures have a twofold goal: reducing the number of vehicles on the road and making these vehicles less polluting, to the benefit of the entire population These are measures that discourage the use of cars and encourage the use of public transport.

Is diesel the highest polluting fuel?

Back in the 1990s, the European strategy for reducing greenhouse gases (above all, CO2) opted for more efficient, lower-consumption vehicles. As a result, diesel engine vehicles were the most widely sold by the end of the 1990s. While it is true that vehicles which run off diesel emit less CO2 than vehicles which use petrol, diesel engines emit higher quantities of other, more harmful components, such as suspended particles (PM2,5 and PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). According to the Generalitat's calculations, a gas-fuelled car dating back to before the Euro 1 regulations (over 20 years old) emits 58 times more NO2 than a new gas-fuelled car. Withdrawing from circulation a diesel vehicle that is more than 20 years old would be the equivalent of removing 35 modern vehicles.

Why does my vehicle have no label from the DGT when it passes the MOT’s vehicle emission tests?

To be considered suitable for use, vehicles have to exceed the European Union’s current standardisation and registration regulations at all times. These regulations establish, among other technical aspects, several limits to emitting pollutants into the atmosphere. Mandatory periodic MOT inspections check, among other things, that the emissions from each vehicle are adjusted to the originally approved limits, in other words, that there have been no changes since they left the factory.

Pollution-emission limits for new vehicles that are standardised and registered in the European Union have seen a spectacular reduction over the last few years, owing to anti-pollution technologies. So, when it comes to older vehicles, even where they can easily pass the emission tests that are conducted during periodic mandatory MOT inspections, more permissive limits apply than with newer vehicles, which is why they have potentially higher emissions. In addition, even where vehicles may be very old vehicles, such as those with diesel engines and registered before 1 January 1980, some are exempt from emission tests.

Measures to restrict the use of high-polluting vehicles discriminate against people with fewer resources

Restricting the use of high-polluting vehicles has a greater impact on people with higher incomes, as they have more vehicles and tend to be more dependent on private vehicles. A survey on work-day mobility from 2016 shows that households in lower-income neighbourhoods have fewer cars (even old ones) and use their car or motorcycle less than those in neighbourhoods with higher incomes that have more cars (even old ones) and use their car or motorcycle more for getting around the city.

Reinforcement of public transport

Reforç del transport públic en dies d’episodi ambiental per NO2

En dies d’episodi de contaminació per NO2 es reforça el transport públic de l’àrea de Barcelona especialment en les hores punta de matí i tarda.  

  • Metro: La xarxa de metro de TMB es reforça en hores punta amb un tren més en cada línia convencional, i personal d’informació i atenció a les estacions de més afluència i les d’enllaç amb altres xarxes ferroviàries. Amb aquest reforç tota la xarxa té una freqüència de pas al voltant dels 3 minuts, quan normalment la mitjana està entre els 3-4 minuts. Aquest reforç s’afegeix a l’increment estructural d’oferta que progressivament s’està implantant a la xarxa de metro per correspondre a l’increment de la demanda.
     
  • Autobús: Es reforcen els corredors amb més demanda amb més de 50 busos addicionals. A les línies de bus metropolità de l’AMB s’incorporen un total de 30 autobusos en hora punta,  15 autobusos a l’àmbit del Baix Llobregat i 15 més al Barcelonès Nord. Aquests reforços es duen a terme bàsicament en hora punta de matí i de tarda. A primera hora del dia, els reforços es concentren en els accessos a Barcelona, mentre que durant l’hora punta de la tarda, que coincideix amb la tornada de la feina, els reforços es concentren en les principals sortides de Barcelona.
    En el cas dels busos metropolitans de gestió directe de l'AMB, a través de TMB, des de la tardor de 2017 s'incorporen 22 vehicles més a la flota en dies feiners. A partir de la tardor de 2018 s'incorporen 21 noves unitats.
    A les línies de bus expres.cat, que gestiona la Generalitat es reforça el servei amb 25 autobusos en les línies de Mataró, la Vall de Tenes, Caldes de Montbui, Sentmenat, Vic, Sabadell, Igualada, Esparreguera, Corbera de Llobregat, Vallirana i Sant Pere de Ribes.
     
  • Tram: Millora dels intervals de pas del tramvia. A tot el tronc comú entre les 7 hores i les 22 hores la freqüència en dies d’episodi es situa en 4 minuts, en comptes dels 5 habituals. S’incrementa la capacitat amb la incorporació de dues unitats dobles a les línies T1 i T4 i es reforça en general el servei a les línies T5 i T6 en hora vall.
     
  • Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC): S’incrementa l’oferta a la Línia del Vallès i a la Llobregat – Anoia en hora vall. També es reforça la circulació a la línia Llobregat –Anoia durant tot el dia així com el bus Sant Cugat del Vallès – Barcelona.
     
  • Rodalies de Catalunya: Ampliació de l’hora punta fins a les 11 hores a les línies R1 i R4. L’anàlisi de la resta de corredors conclou que en aquests moments hi ha capacitat sobrant a la resta de línies per donar servei a un increment de la demanda.

Per facilitar la circulació dels busos dins la corona metropolitana s’habiliten carrils especials a les entrades a Barcelona per la B-23 i la Gran Via (C31 Sud).

 

What does the public transport network offer me?

Travelling on public transport prevents unnecessary traffic jams, provides you with more time for reading, chatting or listening to music in a relaxed way and saves you money.

Barcelona has an extensive network that includes buses, metro lines, trams, railways and trains. There are over 2,513 stops distributed throughout the territory to enable people to make their daily journeys. The transport network undergoes continuous improvements to make it a more efficient service, with more connectivity and improved intermodality between the various modes of transport. Barcelona is working to ensure that, by 2018, 95% of the population will have a high-performance bus service within 300 metres of their home. The metro network has 8 lines, 156 stations and over 140 trains in operation during every workday rush hour.

I have no option but to use a private vehicle for my journeys

The public transport network in Barcelona and its metropolitan area undergoes continuous improvements to respond to the population's needs. To learn about the possibilities for travelling on public transport visit the websites Getting there  (Barcelona City Council's website) Where to go? (Metropolitan area's website) website or the Generalitat of Catalonia’s Get about Catalonia on Public Transport

If there is no other option, Barcelona City Council recommends sharing a vehicle with other passengers or combining it with the use of public transport. You will save money and enjoy your journey more.

What can I do in my daily life to reduce the effects of pollution?

Always travel on foot, by bicycle or by non-motorised transport: not just for the benefits this has on your health, but for the whole city too, as it means one less vehicle causing atmospheric pollution, noise and traffic jams.

If you are walking or cycling during rush hours, look for alternative routes where there is less traffic: this will reduce the time you take on your journey and allow you to breathe cleaner air.

Use public transport in preference to private cars. You are sure to find the route that suits you: Barcelona's metropolitan area is interconnected by an entire network of public transport: buses, metro, trams, railways, trains etc.

Lastly, if you really need a car to travel, consider the possibility of sharing it with workmates or friends who are going your way: you will reduce the number of vehicles and the corresponding pollution, and your journey will be cheaper and more pleasant.