Oslo reacted to the heavy winter smog by banning private diesel cars from the city’s streets on Tuesday for the first time in its history. Drivers are in an uproar because diesel cars make up 45 per cent of the city’s vehicles. Oslo plans to ban combustion engines from the city centre by 2024. André Anwar reports from Stockholm.
The municipal government in Norway’s capital took a big gamble on Tuesday. In response to the heavy winter smog covering Oslo, city officials banned private diesel cars from city streets beginning at 6:00 am. The ban was scheduled to last until 10 pm or until the air quality improves, meaning it could last for days to come.
Chaos on the streets of Oslo
Diesel cars currently make up 45 per cent of the passenger cars in metropolitan Oslo with its 2 million residents. With the ban affecting so many commuters, there was a huge amount of chaos as buses and trains overcrowded.
Many people came in to work late, furious that they had to pay for publish transport despite promises to the contrary. Already by early morning, measuring stations were reporting considerably better air than expected thanks to the snowfall.
Wilhelm Simonsen was one of the many commuters who ignored the ban – without success. Police, highway authorities and the municipal environmental agency had positioned themselves at nearly all major entrance routes, searching for environmental polluters.
Fines waived, exceptions made
“Do you have a special reason to use this diesel car today?”, Simonsen was asked by an official. “No, no reason other than it’s the only car I have,” he said. Like many others, he was forced to turn back and use local transport to complete his journey to work.
On the first day of the ban, the police waived the 1,500 krone fine (USD 175).
Exceptions were made only for diplomats, medical vehicles and emergencies, vehicles licensed to transport people, such as taxis, as well as on ring road 3, the E6 and E18.
Municipal government justifies measures
Many commuters were extremely angry on Tuesday, unleashing a storm of complaint on social media. But the municipal government justified its measures.
Oslo suffers from excessive levels of nitrogen oxide every winter, and the wind hardly blows when temperatures drop. The city is surrounded by hills, so when the air temperature at higher altitudes is slightly warmer, then the cold, polluted air is trapped below in the city.
Asthma sufferers stay home
Many of the city’s citizens suffer from asthma and simply stay at home on days like Tuesday. Each year around 180 residents die from the effects of air pollution, according to city officials.
This is one reason why the city government implemented the current ban, which it can enforce within 24 hours of poor air pollution levels. But the city’s left-leaning government has a far more radical goal in the long term.
Combustion engine ban by 2024
Oslo officials have declared that they plan to ban all vehicles with combustion engines from the city centre by 2024. Step-by-step, the city toll for such vehicles will be drastically raised from 33 krone. At the same time, the city will invest heavily in expanding and improving the local public transport system.
No other country in the world has as many electric vehicles per capita, in part because of financial incentives and road traffic perks. And yet this success is controversial.
Luxury, second cars
“The taxes levied each year of around EUR 6,200 per electric car could be used more effectively elsewhere to reduce CO2 emissions,” said Anders Skonhoft, a professor of economics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.
This is in part because well-off citizens have the luxury of being able to simply use their electric cars as a second car for driving in the city.
The social argument against the diesel ban is also being used by the right-wing populist party, arguing that that low-income households who live further away from the city are hit the hardest by this ban. On Tuesday it called for an immediate end to the ban.