German city of Hamburg to restrict older diesel vehicles

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg, will ban the most polluting diesel vehicles from two major streets from next week, a move that could spur others to follow suit and raise pressure on carmakers to consider costly vehicle refits.

FILE PHOTO: Traffic signs which ban diesel cars are installed by workers at the Max-Brauer Allee in downtown Hamburg, Germany May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo

Hamburg, home to around 1.8 million people, said on Wednesday the ban would start on May 31 and affect diesel models that do not meet the latest Euro-6 emissions standards.

This follows a ruling in February by Germany’s top administrative court that the cities of Stuttgart and Duesseldorf should consider bans for older diesels.

The detailed publication of that ruling last Friday showed local authorities were entitled to implement targeted bans with immediate effect to bring air pollution levels into line with European Union rules, although curbs affecting wider city areas should only be phased in over time.

Bans on diesel vehicles from city centres are also planned in Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to bar new diesel cars from entering the city centre as soon as next year.

Since the German ruling was disclosed, the environment minister of Germany’s northernmost state, Schleswig-Holstein, has said banning older diesel vehicles could also be an option for the regional capital Kiel, a city of about 250,000 people.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has long sought to avoid bans, as has the VDA auto industry lobby representing carmakers such as Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE, Daimler and BMW.

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze - a member of the Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel’s coalition government - urged carmakers to roll out retrofits for diesel cars to lower emissions. “Driving bans like those in Hamburg show how serious the situation is,” she told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It’s up to the car industry now.”

Levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitted by diesel engines and known to cause respiratory disease should fall significantly as more efficient Euro-6 models are sold and emissions-cleaning software updates take effect, Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer was quoted as saying on Wednesday by the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

The bans in Hamburg affect a section of about 1.6 km (one mile) on Stresemannstrasse, where the restrictions will apply only to commercial vehicles weighing 3.5 tonnes or more, and a section of about 580 metres on Max-Brauer-Allee, covering all diesel vehicles.

Both thoroughfares are in Altona, a busy district in the west of the city.

Drivers aiming for a destination on the two affected streets, including residents, trash collectors, suppliers and taxis, will be exempt from the restrictions as they are designed to filter out through traffic, a spokesman for Hamburg’s environment and energy department said.

Of the 330,000 diesel cars on Hamburg’s roads, only about 116,000 have the Euro-6 technology that was introduced in 2014, according to local government data.

Police will make random checks and fine drivers of older diesel cars 25 euros ($30) and truck owners up to 75 euros for violating the new rules, he said.

($1 = 0.8563 euros)

Reporting by Andreas Cremer and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Maria Sheahan, Mark Heinrich and David Stamp