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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  • Comment number 272.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    145. steve49 . AS you stated the trial was some years ago. London now has a Emissions zone, Dirty trucks, vans and Buses can't afford to run in the city. New cars, etc. run to Euro 5 or above. Paris needs a similar anti pollution zone. And for Ukip voters, the impetus for better engine design came from the EU, not UK, or any other, car manufacturers,

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    It works I Greece where you can only drive into the centre of Athens on alternate days depending on the last digit on your number plate being odd or even.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    At last Hollande has had a great idea to boost the economy! Sales of alternative number plated vehicles will rocket!

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    The ELEPHANT in the room.

    More and more office blocks are being built in the cities.

    Each workstation in these generates 2 journeys per day.

    Deal with the root cause not the symptom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Surprise to know it is France not the UK that has serious air pollution, since France has a better public transport system than that of the UK, and many French people lead a healthy life style compared to many British people who drive not walk around the corner to buy a bottle of milk

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    The major source of PM10's in cities is public transport. Studies in the UK have shown that cars are minor producers of PM10's. Exhaust fumes are only one source of particles as both tyre wear and brake dust are sources so even electric vehicles produce this form of pollution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    the main problem is that pollution legislation has had practically zero effect on NO or PM emissions. new cars are as bad as old ones. excessive consumption is another problem, as is land use and commute strategy. public transport and taxis are just as bad. we need to work on ways to push people out of cities on a regular basis and encourage more hybrid / electric vehicles for those that can't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    They tried this in Milan in the 90s, people just drove each others cars on the days they needed a odd/ even number plate, or bought a second car with the opposite number.

    Strangely enough it failed dismally

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    C'est la vie !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    Pollution is a serious matter that affect Humankind, it is nice that BBC take a focus of it and let us comment. Unfortunately, there are others crisis too that affect the life of us all and we couldnt say a word about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    The problem is down to people's greedy mindset and laziness.

    I live next door to a family of 4 adults and they own 4 cars, and yet their house like mine is very small. I rarely see them using the London Underground station just 10 minutes walk away.

    People see cars as a status symbol as opposed to a way of getting from x to y. These gluttons measure themselves by the make of their car.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    People banging on about population numbers should do us all a favor and stop breathing.

    The problem is selfishness, i do a car share, where i drive one wk next wk off. It halves my petrol and gives use of the car to someone else in the family. People have lost respect for each other, and too greedy to see beyond their own ambition. Thus endeth the leason of how another civilisation vanishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Sounds like they need a congestion charge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Cars are NOT the problem, unsustainable numbers of humans are the problem & evidentially the damage caused by present number of humans is unsustainable, so once again politicians negligent reaction is too continue to ignore the CRUX of the problem & instead take away peoples movement & transport rights + reduce/remove other rights

    More people = less rights & freedoms due to unsustainable damage

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    So Paris has serious air pollution. No problem, Russia, switch off the oil pipeline to France

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    A single person can have some direction of their own destiny and their desire / will for a smoke frewe environment.

    The masses of humanity in cities indiscriminately air pollute themselves and everyone else by the toxic traffic exhaust.

    Health ministers tell everyone "Stop smoking" only for thousands to get sick and die as a direct result of traffic pollution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    To 250. They photograph the number plates then send the bill...

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    To 250. Peter Dewsnap: Paris has the Métro, equivalent with the London Underground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    Imagine a city with electric vehicles...cleaner air, quieter. Time we considered the petrol driven vehicle as a dodo...and put more time, energy, money and business and political will into other possibilities...what about moving pavements like you get in the airports only a bit faster!!!! We do actually have two legs and could reorganise work and home to be in walking distance.


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