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Why a small Spanish island is saying no to tourist cars

Formentera, in the Balearics, wants to limit the number of vehicles on its roads in a bid to ease the strain on local infrastructure and protect the environment

A beach in Formenta, a big tourist spot.
A beach in Formenta, a big tourist spot.

Spain’s Balearic Islands are looking to restrict the number of vehicles allowed on Formentera as a surge in tourism threatens to cripple the tiny islet. The Balearic regional government has put forward a draft bill that would limit how many cars can enter and circulate on the island and set a cap on the number of rental cars and motorbikes allowed.

As many as 50,800 vehicles come to the island in high season

Formentera is the smallest of the Balearic Islands, and is home to 12,900 people. But it is struggling to cope with the 47,000 visitors who come during high season in summer. The number of cars soars to 20,700 (10,750 local cars, 8,000 rental motorbikes and 2,000 rental cars) and in peak summer months that number can reach as high as 50,800 vehicles – a 145% increase of cars and motorbikes on a road network that stretches barely 38.5 kilometers. The traffic congestion is worsened by the 1,295 vehicles that arrive each day on ferries from nearby island Ibiza and the port city of Dénia, on the coast of mainland Spain.

In order to protect “Formentera’s economic and environmental sustainability,” the draft bill proposes adopting measures to supervise how many vehicles enter the islet  The draft bill is also looking to promote the use of electric cars and motorbikes in both the public and private sector.

‘Pioneering measure’

Under the proposed legislation, vehicles belonging to residents, public transport and people with reduced mobility would be exempt. The draft bill also proposes a reservation system so that visitors can apply ahead of time for authorization to enter Formentera. Motor vehicles would be temporarily restricted from areas deemed to have natural, cultural or scenic value, according to the draft bill. Studies will continue next season to determine the limit on vehicles.

Local councilor Marc Pons has described the initiative as a “pioneering measure for Spain and Europe” but said it will not be extended to other Balearic islands. “In the future, more could come but at the moment, this is to be solely applied in Formentera,” he explained.

The bill will be under the jurisdiction of the regional Balearic government but leave Formentera authorities in charge of how to apply the regulations.

Nearly 50,000 visitors come to the Formentera during summer

The premier of the Balearic Islands, Francina Armengol, has said the measure “is courageous and decisive from an ecological and environmental perspective,” but added that an efficient public-transportation network and mobility plan is also needed. “Formentera is a small island, a fragile and limited territory,” she said.

The draft bill is expected to pass in the next few days, before being debated by the regional parliament. If it is approved, the measures could take effect at the end of this year or the beginning of 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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