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Those interested in checking out the fashion and financial capital of Italy might want to consider taking the train: The city of Milan has implemented a complex tax on vehicles visiting the downtown area in an effort to cut down on traffic and air pollution.

Unfortunately, paying the levy isn’t as simple as throwing a few coins in the basket as you drive into town.

“It’s confusing, even to Italians,” said a woman who answered the phone at one of the city’s tourist offices and declined to give her name.

In order to visit the core part of the city, vehicles will pass by entrances monitored by video cameras, which will take pictures of cars’ license plates. If the owner of a particular license plate isn’t registered by the city as having paid the fee, the driver will face a fine ranging from 70 to 275 euros ($105 to $415). Those fines will eventually make their way to owners by mail, similar to some speeding tickets.

In order to avoid a fine, vehicle owners must purchase an Eco Pass, which can be done in four ways: through a participating bank, online, via an automated phone number or from a local newsstand, tobacco shop or bar. Once purchased, vehicle owners have until the day after they use the Eco Pass to send a text message to city hall. The message must include the 12-digit personal identification number on the back of the pass and the license plate number.

Passes cost varying amounts depending on when the car was manufactured. Most newer cars and electrical vehicles are free. Slightly older cars require a day pass of 2 euros, with others costing 5 or 10 euros. Some older cars are judged to be too polluting and can’t be driven into restricted areas at all.

The restrictions are initially imposed from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Restrictions don’t apply on weekends and holidays.

The hours change from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting April 15. Those parking their cars on the outskirts of the city and taking the metro in to the main sites should be OK.

Valentina Lehman provided translation for this report.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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