Rome (Gasp) Curtails (Cough) Traffic to Fight (Hack) Air Pollution

PHOTO: The air quality was so bad in Rome Italy that officials banned all cars and motorcycles from the city for the next two days unless the driver is headed for a wedding or a funeral, Dec. 1, 2011.

The air quality was so bad in Rome today that officials banned many of the exhaust spewing cars and motorcycles from the city for the next two days, but left plenty of exceptions, including whether the driver was heading to a wedding or a funeral.

Today only cars with even numbered license plates were allowed into the city along with cars, motorcycles and scooters that have strict anti-pollution devices on them, electric and hybrid cars.

The exemptions include emergency services and anyone driving to a wedding or a funeral.

On Friday, only vehicles with license plates ending in odd numbers will be allowed to circulate.

Anyone found driving with the "wrong" plate number is liable to a fine of 150 Euros (about $200).

Rome has been battling air pollution all year as smog levels rose to well above the limits set by European laws 56 times this year, including a recent six day stretch.

Rome was one of 46 Italian cities which had exceeded the safety limits for over 35 days this year.

Thirty of these cities are in the Po valley in the north of Italy where the situation gets so bad so frequently that authorities have no other remedy but to curtail traffic for a day.

Rome Curbs Traffic to Fight Air Pollution

Traffic was visibly reduced in Rome today. In the past few days Romans were heard grumbling about the ban as they tried to figure out what day they could use their cars or how to juggle the use of their different vehicles to keep driving every day.

Italians know that the high smog levels this year are not helped by the unseasonably warm fall weather.

"Let's hope for rain soon to disperse the smog," said a Roman driver interviewed on the Italian TV news today "so that we can stop this charade."

Most Romans blame a poor public transport system and limited metro system on why they are forced to use their private vehicles. New "green-transport" projects continue to be drawn up for more electric buses and car and bike sharing, but the city is already short of funds and new austerity measures expected to be announced next week are unlikely to help moves to improve environment-friendly systems.

Rome's Mayor Gianni Alemanno, who has always been critical of the effectiveness of alternate license ban on traffic, told reporters today that the warm weather was to blame for forcing the city to take this action. He said he hoped that this was just a temporary measure and that a more long-term plan to reduce traffic and pollutants could be introduced shortly.

Marco Visconti, Rome's environmental councillor, also blamed Rome's pollution levels on the weather. "Go to the beaches near Rome you will still find people swimming in November," he said.

With this winter's weather forecast to remain balmy what may finally force Italians to leave their beloved cars and scooters at home will be further government austerity measures expected to seriously curb personal spending.

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