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Swiss first Banning dirty cars to help fight Geneva’s smog

traffic on a bridge

The cars are ranked based on their emissions and the type of fuel they use.

(Salvatore Di Nolfi / Keystone)

In an effort to reduce air pollution and its health hazards, the Geneva authorities have approved a measure to ban the most polluting vehicles driving through the city centre when air pollution reaches certain levels.

The ban will apply to all vehicles – Swiss and foreign – and be enforced during smog alerts, effective January 15, 2020. Geneva is the first place in Switzerland to take such action. Germany and France have already introduced similar legislation.

How does the ban work?

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Any vehicle planning to drive through Geneva city centre must display a sticker that indicates its environmental performance – in other words, its potential to pollute. The stickers are divided into six categories, from “grey” for the least ecological models to “green” for electric vehicles and those that run on hydrogen. The same ranking system is used in France, where it is known as Crit’Airexternal link.

When smog levels are high in Geneva and the authorities issue an alert, cars with grey stickers will be the first ones banned from entering the city centre between 6am-10pm. If smog conditions persist, restrictions will apply to the other more polluting categories in a “progressive and temporary manner”.

map

This map shows the part of Geneva that will be off limits to some vehicles during smog alerts.

(Canton Geneva)

Alerts will be broadcast in the media and warning signs will be set up in the city. Drivers that ignore the advisory notices and enter the city centre on such days can be fined CHF500 ($503). Starting in December, motorists can buy stickers for CHF5 from service stations, the Geneva cantonal vehicle service and from other outlets.

Police and fire vehicles, diplomatic cars, taxis and vans for passengers with disabilities are among those exempted. 

What about cars from outside Geneva?

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The rule also applies to vehicles from other cantons and countries. Professional vehicles get a transitional period of two years to comply with the legislation and display the relevant sticker, which was presented by the Geneva authorities on Wednesdayexternal link. Other private vehicles must display one before January 15, 2020. The first fines will be handed out from April 1.

round stickers with numbers

Geneva's Stick'AIR is modelled after France's Crit'Air system, and features the same criteria and colours.

(Canton Geneva)

How many days of the year will the ban be in effect?

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Based on historic local weather reports, the authorities predict that there may only be two to ten days per year, generally in July and August, when the smog is at its worst and the ban will come into effect. On especially bad days, public transport will be free, and the speed limit on the motorway around Geneva will be reduced to 80km/h. “We have adopted a compromise between economic freedom and the right to breathe healthy air,” said Antonio Hodgers, the president of Geneva’s cantonal parliament.

Geneva continues to attract a constant flow of people to live and work. But most prefer to drive to the office.

In terms of smog, how does Geneva compare to other cities?

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In Switzerland, there are more than 4,000 premature deaths per year on account of air pollution. Geneva has a far higher population densityexternal link than other Swiss cities, making it a logical local pioneer. However, the air in Geneva as well as the rest of Switzerland is comparatively clean in comparison with other places, as this World Health Organization map of global ambient air pollutionexternal link shows. 

Is there any opposition to the new vehicle ban?

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Geneva is the first Swiss canton to introduce such a sticker system, which it says was approved by the federal environment and transport officesexternal link. In 2018, former Federal Transport Minister Doris Leuthard said that for the sake of compliance, having such a system was conceivable “only at the federal level”.

The Geneva branch of Touring Club Suisse (TCS) says it will challenge the new system. “These [local] government decisions may well be overturned, and we are awaiting the opinion of Geneva’s constitutional courtexternal link with confidence,” TCS Geneva President François Membrez told the Tribune de Genèveexternal link newspaper on Thursday.

ETH Zurich traffic expert Matthias Finger criticized Geneva’s “quick fix” solution on Swiss public radio, SRFexternal link, insisting that better public transport was much more important.


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