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Bulgaria's first environmental zone

The Bulgarian government is declaring war on air pollution in the capital. Over the next few years, about one billion euros are to be invested in improving air quality. An environmental zone that only allows vehicles with Euro standard 3 and better to enter would be the first in the country.

With over 660 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants, Sofia is well above the European average. Air pollution is high and vehicles are mostly old. Not least because the discarded vehicles are sold from Western European countries to the Eastern states. The cost of the bad air in the capital - incidentally the dirtiest city in the country - is 2,084 euros per capita.

Now the government is reacting to the air pollution. A total of 2 billion Bulgarian levs, or about 1 billion euros, is to be invested between 2021 and 2026 to tackle air pollution. About 83% of this budget is reserved for the transport sector. Among other things, the country's first environmental zone is to be introduced. It is to ban Euro standards 0, 1 and 2. However, for the time being, the zone is to be activated only on certain days in the winter months when air pollution is high. In addition, neighbourhoods with very dirty streets are to be cleaned more often to reduce dust turbulence and thus counteract the dangerous fine dust in the city.

After the original plans, the budget for the transport sector has now been expanded by another 250 million euros. How this is to benefit air quality, however, is not specified. Critics are therefore sceptical. Other measures, such as replacing old coal stoves with electric heaters, would be cheaper and more effective in their opinion. In fact, heating systems are to be renewed. Money from the European Union is also available for this. However, as described above, the budget for the housing sector is much smaller than for the transport sector.

Even if critics of the low emission zone see the money better invested elsewhere, low emission zones in other countries have clearly shown that they can help reduce air pollution. However, the government in Sofia is still shying away from a permanent low emission zone. The rules of the zone are also initially still restrained. Slowly, however, the times and also the rules could be tightened and, for example, vehicles with Euro standard 3 could also be banned. So the beginning has been made.  On days when the zone has to be activated, there will be so-called green tickets that make travelling on public transport cheaper.  So in addition to banning old vehicles, the government is also creating alternatives that will make public transport more attractive.

An environmental zone already exists in Prague and Budapest. In other Eastern European cities, however, the concept is not yet very widespread. The low emission zone in Sofia could now spur other countries to introduce driving bans. In this way, more and more people in the east of the European continent could benefit from clean air.