Rome limits cars as many Italian cities struggle with air pollution worsened by good weather

ROME – Rome is limiting auto circulation, and other Italian cities have been offering free bus rides to encourage public transport use as the country battles seasonal air pollution that has been worsened this year by long spells of no rain and little wind.

As it has done several times this fall, Rome this week limited the number of cars and motorcycles on its roads using a system based on license plates. Vehicles with plates ending in an odd number were banned Monday and vehicles with plates ending in an even number were banned Tuesday.

“The high concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide continue, aggravated by the weather situation of high pressure and absence of wind,” Rome’s city hall said. Traffic police scrutinized license plates of passing cars. Violators risk a 150-euro ($165) fine.

In northern Turin, public transport was free for two days this month to try to entice commuters away from cars. Milan recently put limits on more-polluting diesel cars for three days, and the city’s residents were asked to turn down thermostats by 1 degree. Parents accompanying their children to and from Milan’s schools could ride free on buses and trams.

Little relief is in sight, with more rainless days predicted for the rest of the month.

“Smog, there’s an alarm in all of Italy,” read a headline in Turin daily La Stampa Tuesday. Levels of particulate matter, considered especially harmful to health, are expected to run two or three times the level allowed by the European Union, especially in the Milan area, experts have predicted.

The Italian health and environment ministers have agreed to back anti-pollution measures with a special 5-million-euro ($5.5 million) fund, in part to compensate cities for lost revenues when public transport is free on smoggy days.

Rome merchants have voiced fears that limiting cars will discourage shopping in the holiday gift-buying season.