Norway’s two largest cities, Oslo and Bergen, are considering banning conventional gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles from entering their downtown areas. The goal is to set up zero-emission zones by 2025.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported over the weekend that the Conservatives-led city governments in both Oslo and Bergen have adopted strategy plans that call for use of only low- or zero-emission vehicles in the city center.
The move would force major changes on not only the city’s own population but all commuters who still drive their cars to work in the city. Taxi and delivery vehicles would also be affected by the new rules.
“We’re supposed to cut our emissions in half by 2030, so we have to start now,” Guri Melby, the Oslo politician from the Liberal Party (Venstre) who’s in charge of environmental issues, told DN. She’s aiming for pilot projects to begin within the next two years: “Our ambition must be to put in place our first low-emission zone in 2017-1018.”
‘Bergen took the initiative’
Oslo’s downtown area “is a highly probable zone, both because we have major problems with air pollution and because there are many people who are downtown,” Melby said. She pointed out that the downtown area also has the best public transport alternatives to private cars.
In Bergen, the top city politican in charge of climate and environmental issues, Henning Warloe of the Conservative Party, is also ready to ban conventional vehicles from the downtown area.
“It was in fact Bergen that took the initiative to be the test community for this a few years ago,” Warloe told DN. He and Melby lobbied the parliament for permission to set up emissions-free zones, with the parliament in turn asking the government to make them legal.
Bergen will put its plans out to hearing in August and they’re expected to include new tolls for driving into town that would be even higher than those already in place. Melby in Oslo is also open to allowing those with “gas-guzzling” cars to drive into downtown for a period, but at a much higher toll than today. Oslo was among the first cities in the world to charge tolls for driving into downtown more than 20 years ago, but then the goal was simply to reduce traffic congestion and build up funds for road improvements.
The plans to ban the vast majority of vehicles from downtown predictably have met skepticism from opposition parties. Carl I Hagen of the conservative Progress Party called the initiative a result of “climate crazies” who may manage to get it past the city government, but not the city council. “If the goal is to improve air quality, I’m willing to evaluate it, but what will it cost to reduce (pollution), and by how much?” Hagen queried. “We need to be realistic. I don’t go in for this kind of force.”
Melby was adamant. “It won’t be forbidden to own a car in Oslo,” she told DN, “but the goal is that you use it as little as possible.” The proposal will be up for debate this fall.