In the midst of an air pollution crisis, Mexico City just banned over one million cars. Ozone levels rocketed to almost double the standard parameters, so to incentivize people to stop driving, the authorities offered free subway or bus rides.

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It’s a disappointing step backward for Mexico City, which struggled with pollution through the 90’s – in 1992 the UN said Mexico City had the most polluted air in the world. To clear the air, the city enacted mandatory smog checks and sought to take old, polluting cars off the road. For the past 11 years, the government didn’t have to issue any pollution alerts.

Related: Air pollution causes more human deaths than other environmental causes

Yet last year a court eased up on the rules, and now Mexico City and the surrounding valley are crippled by a fourth day of stifling, unhealthy smog. Residents are wearing masks or scarves over their mouths and noses, and many children can’t play outside at recess.

Still, some people drove. Out of the 1.1 million cars banned, only around 800,000 followed the imperative, said Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera.

Environment Secretary Alejandro Pacchiano said the court’s ruling last year allowed an estimated 1.4 million cars to drive every day. The most recent available data from 2014 reveals that in Mexico City, 4.7 million cars are registered. Pacchiano also said if the smog does not abate, the government will have to take additional measures, such as temporarily halting industrial activity.

Ozone can precipitate respiratory problems, and it’s even “associated with increased mortality” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Hot, dry weather without the respite of wind or rain is expected to continue for the next several days. The mountains that ring Mexico City keep the air trapped in, and right now, the city suffers.

Via The Guardian

Images via Wikimedia Commons (1,2)