The environmental zone in Erfurt is history. After the particulate matter levels have been significantly improved in recent years, the Higher Administrative Court has now upheld the complaint of an Erfurt taxi driver. A victory at the expense of health.
Since 2012, only newer vehicles have been allowed to enter the environmental zone in Erfurt. Diesel vehicles with Euro standard 3 were no longer allowed to enter large parts of the city area, as in other German environmental zones. A taxi driver filed a complaint 9 years ago against the fact that he had to retrofit his fleet with soot particle filters and partly purchase new vehicles. After the complaint was initially dismissed, he has now been granted justice in the second attempt. According to the Thuringian Higher Administrative Court, there is no longer any basis for the driving ban. The particulate matter limits were only exceeded on 4 days in 2019. Nitrogen dioxide levels have also fallen sharply in recent years. However, it is not yet clear when exactly the environmental zone will be abolished. It also remains to be seen whether this precedent will have consequences for the other environmental zones in Germany.
Drivers in Frankfurt am Main can already breathe a sigh of relief. There is no threat of new diesel driving bans there for the time being. After the organisation Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) filed a lawsuit against the city, the Hessian Administrative Court had obliged Frankfurt at the end of 2019 to consider diesel driving bans as a measure against the high nitrogen oxide pollution. The air quality had improved significantly in the Corona year 2020, so that the driving bans could be averted for the time being. However, the measured values are rising again in some areas. Therefore, no general all-clear can be given yet.
This development in the German environmental zones is astonishing. If one looks at the improvement in air quality, one cannot completely disregard the reduced mobility due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, environmental zones have already been abolished in some cities and political actors are using the improvement in air quality as a reason to put an end to further (diesel) driving bans. This development describes the opposite of what is happening in other countries. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries, diesel vehicles with Euro standard 5 are increasingly banned. Most cities there have strict timetables for when the next vehicles with higher Euro standards will be banned.
But not only the pandemic, but also the limit values themselves would give reason to stick to the environmental zones. The limit values that are just barely complied with in Germany are significantly higher than the values recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Our limit values prevent serious health consequences. The WHO's more ambitious values, on the other hand, would actually ensure cleaner air.
The victory of the taxi driver in Erfurt and also the abolition of other driving bans in Germany seems at first glance to be a victory for the motoring public. Unfortunately, however, the victory is clearly at the expense of citizens' health.