Germany’s Supreme Administrative Court has decided that restrictions - even stretching to bans on diesel cars in German cities are generally permissible. The background of the lawsuit relates to a number of verdicts by the lower Administrative Courts of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, which decided that the respective clean air plans of the provinces’ capitals Stuttgart and Düsseldorf needed to be enhanced and, for this, bans on the driving of certain vehicles should be considered. The petitioner for the provincial and federal trials was, in both cases, Environmental Action Germany. Provincial governments argued against the decision, partly on the basis that there was a need for a federal solution. This has now been rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court.
The Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict underlines the need for a transition phase and a phased approach for the introduction of driving bans. For the City of Stuttgart, the verdict claims that such a phased introduction of driving bans needs to be well reviewed. For the first step, only older vehicles, such as those meeting Euro 4 emissions standards and lower, should be considered for direct actions. Euro 5 or higher diesel vehicles cannot be banned before 1st of September 2019 to safeguard the proportionality of the bans. Further exceptions, such as for craftsmen, also need to be respected. The Court however does not see any obligation for financial compensation of the persons or companies concerned.
Reactions in Germany on the Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict vary significantly. The German Association of Cities and Municipalities stated that air pollution problems cannot be solved by driving bans. The German Institute for Economic Research, on the other hand, claims that the verdict increases the pressure on policy makers and the car industry to start changing the transportation system in favour of less polluting options. The reactions of the political parties are of a different nature as well. While the ruling party of the Conservatives alongside with the Liberal Party harshly criticised the verdict, the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Green Party welcomed it. Further resistance to the verdict comes from economic interests, as well as the Trade Association expressing concerns for their inner-city locations.
The consequences of the verdict, such as how to design Urban Vehicle Access Restrictions (UVARs) and how to control them, need to be clarified now and will be the subject of heated discussions.