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Brussels Low Emission Zone: Penalties are illegal! Who gets their money back?

A complaint classifies the exemption for lorries in the Brussels low emission zone as discriminatory and could mean the end of the low emission zone. The city would then have to pay back all fines and day passes to the citizens.

In the Brussels low emission zone, a ban applies to older cars, vans and buses. Vehicles that are allowed must be registered to avoid fines of around €150. Trucks are exempted from the rules of the low emission zone. They do not need to be registered, and older lorries are also allowed to enter.

In March this year, a citizen had filed a complaint against this different treatment because she feels discriminated against as a car driver. And understandably so. After all, diesel trucks in particular contribute enormously to air pollution in the city. The city of Brussels has exempted lorries from registration because they pay a mileage tax through the toll. However, this arrangement runs counter to improved air quality and thus to the objectives of the environmental zone. In response to the complaint, an official of the Council of State declared that the different treatment of passenger cars (and other vehicles) compared to lorries was indeed contrary to the principle of equality. At the beginning of October 2020, it was ruled that the "interests of the applicant are sufficiently important [to continue the proceedings] since she needs her car to travel to work and in the context of her family and cultural life".

Previously, the City of Brussels had tried to prevent the case from continuing by including lorries in the exceptions to the low emission zone on socio-economic grounds. However, this rather vague wording did not give the decision-making bodies sufficient explanation to drop the case.  

If the plaintiff were indeed right, this would probably have far-reaching consequences. On the one hand, the environmental zone - at least with the rules currently in force - would probably be abolished. But even more dramatically for the city and to the delight of the citizens, fines and day passes already paid would then have to be repaid. This year alone, the city had earned more than €100,000 with the day passes, which allow older, actually banned vehicles to enter the low emission zone on a one-off basis. In addition, all citizens who, because of the zone, had bought a new car, for example, or had other expenses and disadvantages could claim compensation.

Another possible outcome of the lawsuit could be that from now on trucks would require registration in the same way as other vehicles. It is not yet clear whether the unequal treatment of recent years will still have to be compensated. What is certain is that the city will do everything possible to avoid compensation for payments already made, even if it means unpleasant driving bans for trucks.  

It is not clear when a decision in the proceedings can be expected. As soon as there are any new developments in the Brussels green zone case, you will of course find out about them on our blog and in our Green Zones app.