Paris car ban imposed after pollution hits high


Hugh Schofield in Paris: "At the end of last week it was bad - you really felt it catch in your throat"

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Hundreds of police monitored traffic in Paris on Monday after high pollution levels prompted the French government to impose major restrictions.

Only motorists with odd-numbered number plates were allowed to drive.

Those with those even-numbered plates will be allowed to travel on Tuesday after the success of Monday's initiative led to a fall in pollution.

Ministers acted after air pollution exceeded safe levels for five days running in Paris and surrounding areas.

But the environment ministry said lower traffic levels during throughout Monday and a change in weather conditions had significantly improved the smog which has descended on Paris over the past week.

The smoggy conditions have been caused by a combination of cold nights and warm days, which have prevented pollution from dispersing.

On the scene

It is not hard to spot even-numbered registration plates on the streets of Paris. Plenty of people seem to have decided to chance it. Either they reckoned their journey was too important to cancel, or the risk of a 22-euro (£18) fine was not enough to concern them.

But overall it seems Parisians are playing the game. Most cars on the roads are indeed odd-plated, and traffic seems lighter than usual. Fewer vehicles means fewer particles, so presumably the measure is having an effect.

It is hard to criticise a measure whose aim is to protect people's health. But there are legitimate questions over the timing of the alternate driving scheme. Pollution levels peaked at the end of last week, and were already falling. So why now?

Could the Paris mayoral elections next weekend possibly have anything to do with it? Surely not.

The measure has been tried once before, in 1997. Paris air quality monitoring body Airparif says it had a noticeable impact on improving air quality, although critics have disputed its findings.

Motorcycles were also covered by the ban, which ran from 05:30 (04:30 GMT) to midnight. There were exceptions for taxis, commercial electric and hybrid vehicles and for cars carrying three or more passengers.

Those flouting the restrictions faced a small fine. There was free parking for those with number-plates ending in an even number.

About 700 police ran nearly 180 control points around the Paris region, correspondents say, handing out tickets to offenders. Police were reported to have ticketed nearly 4,000 people by midday on Monday, and 27 drivers had their cars impounded for refusing to co-operate with officers.

Delivery companies are already complaining of lost income, BBC Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield says. Politically the stakes are high, with elections for Paris mayor due to start next week.

A police officer inspects a vehicle in Paris (17 March 2014) Pollution offending drivers received fines and in some cases has their vehicles impounded
An electronic road sign reads "Road traffic forbidden for even-numbered licence plates" on the Paris ring road Drivers on Monday were confronted by signs warning them that those with even-numbered licence plates were not allowed on the roads

Opposition leader Jean-Francois Cope complained that the ban lacked "coherence, explanation and on the ground it's really panic".

On Friday, public transport was made free of charge for three days in an attempt to encourage people to leave their cars at home. This measure continued on Monday.

The capital's air quality has been one of the worst on record, French environmental agencies say, rivalling the Chinese capital, Beijing, one of the world's most polluted cities.

BBC Weather's Matt Taylor explains how smog is formed

On Friday, pollution levels hit 180 microgrammes of PM10 particulates per cubic metre, more than double the safe limit of 80.

PM10 particulates are emitted by vehicles, heating systems and heavy industry.

Officials say one heavy rainfall would have more effect than a one-day ban.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    "The smoggy conditions have been caused by a combination of cold nights and warm days", so it's the environment that is the cause of this 'pollution' then? Why punish individuals and car owners for nature? So strange. Do the Arabians ban sand for sandstorms? Truly baffling logic. Pollution happens, and it sometimes settles on things. Get over it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Athens has been doing this for years

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    So does this mean Paris has worse pollution than London?
    If so why is the EU threatening to fine the UK?"

    Probably because London has yet to lodge a viable action plan to reduce its pollution in an acceptable timescale. Paris obviously does have means of reducing it, albeit in a way any London mayor would fail to get reelected if he tried!

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    reply @173... As I've already said... It's not the Parisians who have cars...So why should they buy two when many don't even have ONE!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Why the infatuation for living and working as tightly packed together in a tiny space? Give me a rural way of life anytime, whilst the rest of you scramble about wasting your precious time and money on trying to occupy the same space. You are welcome to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    This has already been tried in Mexico City. All that happened was people bought old, cheap second cars to drive on the other days. These oldc ars were uneconomical and just made the problem worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    As several people have noted this is simply a result of rapid urbanisation of over-population. Until populations decline - or at least dispersed - this type of issue will continue.

    While life spans continue to extend, birth rates increase & the world population grows these type of scenarios will become more commonplace. A future of confrontation for declining resource availability beckons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    It will probably come as a great relief to the drivers of Paris to have to leave their cars at home. The traffic there moves slower than the l'escargots. Better off walking, taking the train (they have very good trains) or the metro. But like any city pedestrians need protecting from thugs on bicycles, the scourge of modern metropolises.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    People think they have a right to drive never mind what damage they do, the only way is to force people out of cars and use Public transport or car-share.
    If public transport were upgraded to handle the extra passengers then there could be no argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    An alternative, which has been mentioned, is encourage firms to offer work from home, or localised working, where you report to your employer's closest office to your home. A better work life balance and less folk passing each other every day on the roads. People may walk, quietening the roads, and freeing up public transport. No need for daft laws that way, either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Great way to boost car sales! Need an odd and an even numbered car.

    Bet they love their open air street eating habits, with free smog.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.


    Anyone having blog problems ?

    Rating, clock,preview and sign-in ?

    contributions accepted --but not shown?

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    So does this mean Paris has worse pollution than London?
    If so why is the EU threatening to fine the UK?
    Or is it just that France is doing something about it - they are definitely doing two things Westminster would never, ever do - pay for public and restrict private transport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Londons future is to grow, much of the growth will be upwards, so workers & residents will increasingly be compacted into taller building which means even more people pers sq metre.

    Whether electric or diesel/petrol cars, London & other citys need an underground road system, like in Brussels, underground carparks & the emissions can be pumped out & cleaned up before pedestrians breath them

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    The motor car is consigned to the scrapheap of history

    O for that day....

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I'm assuming taxi drivers, bus drivers, lorry drivers, police cars, ambulances, fire engines, politicians, ambassadors, the military and the rich will be exempt from the ban.

    Setting speed limits is stupid. It causes jams and keeps cars on the road for longer.

    Like all Western Capitals it needs less people. Shut the doors. Perpetual growth with perpetual immigration is unsustainable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Ban cars from cities, park and ride for free and trains with one fare for anywhere in city. Big car parks required but no pollution from cars in the centre. Then the cause of the pollution can be tracked down and dealt with as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Good idea - do it here, start with London.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    I don't drive - if I could, I probably would. I could get to work in around 25-30 minutes, rather than waiting ten to 15 minutes for a late/unreliable and uncomfortable bus, that takes 45 minutes, and I still have a fifteen minute walk (not an issue at all, in itself). So 30 minutes each way, compared to around 1 hr (if on time) to 1hr 15 minutes (normally), each way. It is a no brainer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Simple solution for Parisians by 2 cars one with and odd plate and one with an even plate.


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