Smoke billows from chimneys in central Rome, in front of St. Peters's Basilica dome.

Three-day ban on private cars starts in Italy’s Milan to lower air pollution levels

Smoggy Christmas in Italy prompts emergency measures, with Milan imposing a total ban on private cars in the city and its hinterland for three days to lower air pollution levels.

MILAN, ITALY (DECEMBER 28, 2015) (REUTERS) – Italy’s two largest cities, Rome and Milan, as well as some smaller cities and towns, adopted emergency measures on Monday (December 28) to lower air pollution levels during the Christmas season.

Ambient pollution detectors in both Milan and Rome have registered high levels of micro particles dangerous to health. In some neighbourhoods the levels were over the limit for more than 50 days.

Officials in Rome had already banned the most polluting, older type of vehicles from circulating in a large part of the city.

They announced last Thursday (December 24) that as of Monday, all vehicles, regardless of type or age, would be allowed to circulate only on alternating days depending on the last number of their license plates, odd on one day, even on the other.

Milan was even more drastic. After restrictive measures on some vehicles last week were not enough, officials in the northern city announced that for three days starting on Monday, there would be a total ban on private cars in the city and its hinterland from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (0900-1500 GMT).

Streets in central Milan were nearly deserted as the ban got underway at 10 a.m. Monday morning.

Many locals said they supported the initiative.

A local man, Germano said he had noticed a clear difference in the air quality returning to the city from his house outside Milan.

“I can feel the pollution. I’m lucky to be able to go to the seaside because I have a small house there and I must say that the difference is notable,” he said.

Giacomo, who lives in China, admitted to feeling somewhat baffled by the ban.

“I live in Shanghai which is one of the most polluted places in the world. I’m back here for the holidays and to be honest I don’t think the situation is all that dramatic,” he said.

Many called for long-term solutions to address the problem.

“I think they’ve done the right thing and it’s a useful initiative. Clearly we then need to put it into a context where there are also other, more comprehensive solutions and politics to go with it,” said Simone.

But some were also pleased to be able move around the city without the congested traffic.

“I think they need to put other, more efficient measures in place in the future but for now this works, also just to live Milan in a better way,” said Davide.

“I normally move around by car but today we’ve used the public transport. It’s a new experience,” said Claudia.

To encourage the use of public transport, a single ticket would be valid for the entire day instead of for a single journey during the ban, officials said.