The current lockdown leads to a decrease in mobility of up to one fifth compared to the previous year. For such situations with low traffic volume, temporary environmental zones could also make sense in Germany.
On 16 December, the first day of the hard lockdown in Germany, mobility dropped significantly as people increasingly stayed at home. This was most noticeable in the city states of Berlin (down 21 percent), Hamburg (down 17 percent) and Bremen (down 14 percent). Only Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania saw a slight increase compared to the same day in 2019. One day earlier, mobility had once again increased significantly.
In moments of such empty roads, Germany could benefit from the concept of temporary environmental zones. In France, in addition to permanent zones, there are many temporary zones that are only activated when air quality is poor. The permanent low emission zone in Paris only allows older cars to enter on weekends. When traffic drops significantly, as in pandemic times, German cities could temporarily allow older vehicles to enter the low emission zones without risking exceeding air quality limits. In times of lockdown, when people are supposed to reduce social contact, such an incentive probably does not make sense, but at other times the regulation could make sense.
Admittedly, the merits of Germany's low emission zones are that rules are very simple and clear, as the same rules apply in every zone and they are permanently valid (except for the new diesel driving bans). However, this also means that the zones are inflexible and cannot be adapted to improvements in air quality.
More flexible rules could therefore be a consideration, benefiting people who cannot afford a newer car, for example. But this would also lead to significantly more confusion.
It remains to be seen how the states will deal with such extraordinary times in the future and what changes, not only in personal behaviour, are in store for us.
You can find the current environmental zones in our Green Zones app.