Milan’s pollution charge: sustainable transport and the politics of evidence

Giulio Mattioli, Mario Boffi, Matteo Colleoni

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper

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The city of Milan, one of the most car-dependent and polluted in Europe, is also among the few to have introduced a road pricing measure. The story of how this happened is of great interest, for it shows how EU regulations, scientific evidence and political action at the local level have concurred to bring about change in the city’s transport policy. Unlike the well-known cases of London and Stockholm, it is concerns for the levels of pollution (rather than congestion) that have led to the introduction of the “Ecopass” scheme in 2008. Accordingly, in the following years the public debate has focused on the effectiveness of this pollution charge in reducing PM10 – a pollutant with adverse health impacts. Based on the analysis of media coverage and official reports, this paper argues that EU regulations had a crucial role in determining the newsworthiness of PM10 in Milan. Media and public concerns have then put increasing pressure on politicians to find a solution to the “emergency”. The dubious effectiveness of Ecopass in reducing PM10 levels then has had two kinds of consequences. First, the scheme was upgraded to a congestion charge in 2012, following the results of a bottom-up referendum in which a large majority of voters demanded both an upgrade and an extension of the Ecopass area: this stands in stark contrast with the experience of other cities, where voters have turned down charging schemes (e.g. Edinburgh, Manchester). Second, the new city administration has recently implemented a monitoring system for Black Carbon, a new PM metric that is more suitable to prove the effectiveness of traffic restrictions. Overall, the paper shows how all actors involved in the process (politicians, media and civil society groups) made strategic use of scientific evidence on pollution, in order to bring forward their own agendas
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Event2012 Berlin Conference on Evidence for Sustainable Development - Berlin, Germany
Duration: 5 Oct 20106 Oct 2010


Conference2012 Berlin Conference on Evidence for Sustainable Development


  • acceptability
  • road pricing
  • air pollution
  • sustainable transport
  • car use
  • referendum
  • congestion charge
  • transport policy


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