Blue and light blue plaques: what a staggered solution would bring

In the shadow of the looming diesel driving bans, the auto industry unveils its latest models at the Geneva Motor Show. In addition to motorists, manufacturers are also under intense pressure.

Source: WORLD/ Isabelle Bhuiyan

T he German government continues to search desperately for solutions following the driving ban ruling by the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. At the same time one wants to improve the quality of the air, but also nationwide driving bans for all diesel in the inner cities yet prevent. After the court has already brought the possibility of a staggered driving ban into play, the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) now proposes another variant.

According to this, there should be two blue badges. One, the so-called dark blue sticker, should only stick to cars with diesel engines that meet the latest technical standards and are therefore as clean as possible. So that would be Euroclass 6d diesel. A light blue one could be given to older and thus dirtier diesels, i.e. cars in Euro classes 5 and 6 a,b as well as c, but only if they are retrofitted.

“The buck now stops with the cities”

Timm Fuchs of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities believes the diesel ruling is not enough, as the buck now stops with the municipalities. They would have to implement the driving bans in the foreseeable future.

That would have two advantages: Fewer vehicles would be banned from cities overall. And cities would also have the option of taking individual measures for their situation. After all, air quality is different in every city. Ultimately, this UBA proposal is also aimed at avoiding general driving bans for diesel vehicles. Above all, this would not remove Euro 5 models, which are not yet so old, from circulation.

12.42 million diesels would be locked out

After the ruling of the Federal Administrative Court, class 5 diesels could be banned from driving in inner cities as early as September 2019. This provides a binding legal basis for driving bans – but the federal government and local authorities fear the reaction of citizens in the country.

In 2016, there were 15.09 million diesel vehicles in this country. If we subtract the 2.67 million Class 6 vehicles, we are left with 12.42 million diesels that would be locked out – and thus millions of diesel drivers who would then be up in arms.

Feb. 28, 2018, North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne, Germany: a car manufacturer advertises with an oversized blue sticker that the vehicle meets the 'Euro 6' standard. Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa +++ dpa-photo-radio +++

Especially those who bought a Euroclass 5 diesel just a few years ago and were led to believe that they had bought a particularly environmentally friendly car because diesel engines consume less fuel than gasoline engines and therefore emit smaller amounts of CO2 into the air. In 2016, there were a total of 5.92 million Euroclass 5 diesel vehicles in Germany.

The Federal Environment Agency is now proposing that cities should be able to react depending on the level of pollutants in the air. “This would give cities an opportunity to react to their respective local pollution levels,” authority head Maria Krautzberger told the “Suddeutsche Zeitung” newspaper. Mainz, for example, could leave it at a light blue sticker according to the current air values. So Euroclass 5 diesels would still be allowed to drive there.

Other measures will not suffice

The situation is different in Munich, where peak levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution are reached on the Landshuter Allee, among other roads. Munich could thus introduce a dark blue sticker under the UBA plans. Only class 6d diesels would then be allowed to drive in the city center.

“Even with the light blue sticker, many municipalities could then comply with the limit values in 2020,” Krautzberger said. “The dark blue one would be introduced later and would be particularly necessary in highly congested cities.”Cars in the Euro 4 class and older would therefore not be eligible for any variant of the blue sticker and would thus be subject to a driving ban. There are around 3.5 million of these vehicles in Germany. The vehicle retrofitting that would be necessary for the issuance of a light blue sticker would “of course have to be paid by the car industry,” Krautzberger emphasized.

Fine dust activist Dieter Janecek

The Federal Environment Agency made the proposal because it is assumed that software retrofits for diesels or the measures from the German government’s “Clean Air Soft Program” will not be sufficient to comply with the pollutant limits set by the EU Commission. “These measures will not be enough to reduce pollutant levels as much as would be possible, we have done the math,” says a UBA spokesman.

Staggered driving bans are therefore to be introduced. Where these would apply is up to the cities, the UBA says. It stands to reason that the existing environmental zones would be taken as a basis for this. “It makes little sense to introduce blue stickers only for certain routes. The result would be shifting traffic, people simply looking for alternative routes,” the spokesman said.

A solo effort and a patchwork quilt at the same time

However, the Federal Environment Agency’s proposal has two serious drawbacks: First, different blue stickers would be the feared patchwork of regulations, because it would allow each city to create different conditions. Some introduce a light blue, others a dark blue sticker. And the third group none at all. Diesel owners would therefore have to find out in advance which regulation applies in which city, otherwise it’s over at the exclusion zone. In the UBA one considers however that reasonable. Because even today, owners of old cars would have to find out in advance whether there is an environmental zone in the respective city.

22.02.2018, Saxony, Leipzig: Jurgen Resch, managing director of Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V., stands in a hall of the Federal Administrative Court. A landmark ruling for diesel drivers could be made there on Thursday. The court will hear whether driving bans for diesel vehicles in particularly polluted German cities are a legally permissible means and should be included in the respective clean air plans. Photo: Sebastian Willnow/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa +++ dpa- Bildfunk +++

Second catch of the UBA plan: It is a solo effort and not coordinated with the federal government. Even the Federal Environment Ministry was not ready for an official statement for the time being. And in the ministries led by the CDU/CSU, especially in the Federal Ministry of Transport, they continue to be strictly against any form of driving bans and thus also against blue stickers, regardless of how blue they are now.

Like his predecessor Alexander Dobrindt (CSU), the designated Transport Minister Scheuer emphasized that mobility and freedom of citizens must not be restricted. Admittedly, work must also be done to reduce pollutant emissions and improve the air, Scheuer told the “Passauer Neue Presse” newspaper. Bans, however, should be prevented at all costs. This is the attitude of the CDU/CSU in general and also of large parts of the SPD.

On approval meets a blue sticker generally with a part of the municipalities. The German Association of Cities, for example, has spoken out strongly in favor of the introduction of a blue sticker following the Federal Environment Agency’s initiative. “We have to be able to distinguish cars in case there are driving bans,” said Helmut Dedy, chief executive of the German Association of Cities and Towns. “And we need a uniform federal solution so that a patchwork of very different municipal solutions is avoided.”

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