Madrid's Gran Via at night

Madrid has an air quality problem, and it's taking an unusual approach to getting the offending vehicles off the road: it's discouraging their drivers from parking. As of today, the city's smart parking meters charge up to 20 percent extra if you drive a car that's likely to either be a fuel hog or put out a lot of exhaust fumes, such as pre-2006 diesels. Conversely, you'll get a discount as high as 20 percent if you're driving a newer (and presumably cleaner-running) car; it's completely free if you're using an electric vehicle. The system is based on a simple license plate check, although it's accompanied by parking space sensors that make you pay more if you're using up one of the last available spots.

In theory, the move will persuade locals to either get rid of their old clunkers or take mass transit when they can. However, there are concerns that this is more of a revenue grab than a sincere attempt to fight pollution. Much like London's congestion charge, Madrid's metering won't punish wealthier residents who can easily afford the fees; it'll certainly hurt poorer locals who can't afford more recent cars. The approach also doesn't make note of the vehicle type -- a brand new SUV may ruin the environment more than an aging compact. Still, the new rates may be helpful if they get people thinking about whether or not they really need to drive downtown.

[Image credit: ©PromoMadrid, author Max Alexander, Flickr]

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Madrid's parking meters now charge extra if you drive a fuel hog