Story by Olivia Sears
MADRID – Dressed in a gray suit and tie, Sergio Gonzalo gazed across the gridlock of cars during rush hour on a central Madrid thoroughfare and stepped down into the Argüelles subway station. For the past three years, he has chosen not to drive his BMW to work in an attempt to reduce his contribution to one of the most polluted cities in the world.
“It is sad to live in a city where pollution levels are so high,” said Gonzalo, 32. The bank employee explains that using public transportation to commute from the suburbs of Madrid is more cost effective and better for the environment.
That’s a message local officials hope will lead to more people leaving their cars at home. But the Madrid City Council is doing more than encouraging a shift. It has passed a new slate of parking fees and created a public bike program meant to give drivers more reason to utilize environmentally friendly forms of transportation. The city also upgraded its fleet of buses, committing to purchasing only energy efficient vehicles moving forward and outfitting old diesel models with filters to limit emissions.
Mariano González, a campaign leader for Ecologists in Action, an environmental advocacy group launched in Madrid in 1998, said the new initiatives come at a good time.
“You want to make Madrid more sustainable in mobility,” he said. “Now is the opportunity. Road traffic has decreased due to economic recession. This is a good opportunity to change our mobility pattern to new ones.”