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 332.

    @ 325.iDominic


    They need to be voted out or committed then; as this is the only legal way together certain individuals from the business and banking industries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    I would buy two cars, each with different license plate one odd and the other even. Problem Solved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Sorry I but I think you - and many others - are missing the point.

    The EU has threatened to fine London because of Air Quality - but principally because London has not produced a plan to reduce it.

    Paris has the same problem but has now proposed a plan to reduce it so wont get fined. How will anyone ever know if it's enforced?

    In the EU? Play their games!

  • Comment number 329.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    325. iDominic

    Also add the many devices that have been invented over the last century all bought up by big oil companies, or denied patents on the basis it can be used for military.

    It will happen, and I predict within ten years all new cars will be powered by an alternative engine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    The last time we were in Paris it wasn't just the air or the roads that were polluted......

    The stench of pee was everywhere - especially in what should have been pleasant old back streets even in the heart of the city.

    That's because there are no public conveniences (and the tiny few you could find were only open 9-5) leaving hundreds to pee in the streets or try and sneak into McDonalds !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Despite its many maladies Paris is still among my favourite cities in the world. Like most large cities Paris has become a victim of its own success. Still, Paris in the 19th Century was like so many cities in the industrialized world, including London and New York: smoky, smelly, dingy, dirty and dank. That doesn’t minimize the current situation, just puts it into historical perspective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Electric cars may well be the answer, but in the longer run we need hydrogen fuel cells or combustion vehicles that make their own fuel

    Just imagine a car that is parked in the sun all day. You add 2L of water in the morning and when you return to it after work, it's used solar to convert to 2L of hydrogen fuel

    But Gov't can't get Fuel Duty from fuel created that way, so it will never happen...

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    @ 296.perry 'hmmmm. how am i gonna get a van load of tools on a tube?'

    That will be the least of your worries if you can't breathe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    So, satellite maps showed high NO2 over much of northern France (old BBC story) and into the German Rhur, now we have this story showing just how bad air pollution actually is in France.
    However, the EU was only going to take the UK to court fro breaching air pollution limits.
    Yet we're meant to believe that the UK isn't the whipping boy of the EU.
    Yeah right

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    Hollande has spoken.

    Too much hot air. This is a EU problem!

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    Viva la France. Good show chaps, they also had the courage to say no to GM crops. I salute you.
    Crash the monetary system placing more of the world on the bread line-check
    Start behind the line conflicts bringing us closer to a world war-check
    Offer a supposed miracle food for the world that will end up changing our minds and bodies-to be continued.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    The car lovers are out in force. It works, actually rather well, because it points many to the right question: Why use 2 tonnes of metal to drag around 170 pounds of meat. In the 70s we had all sorts of systems that worked. The industry made sure we would all get back into our cars before this addiction wore off. Sadly it did. Because people are mainly idiots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    This is predicated on the idea that vehicles cause the pollution in the first instance. The modern internal combustion engine likely emits cleaner air than what it took in to support the combustion initially. Politicians been seen to do something even if does not work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Can the French economy afford this march to utopia?

    I for one doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    6 Minutes ago
    Wasn't the UK being singled out for punishement by the EU for our polution levels? Are we even worse than Paris or are they more sensitive to bad air?


    London quite frequently exceeds the safe levels by a couple of orders of magnitude, but us Brits & our leaders are either ambivalent or ignorant of the potential dangers so tend not to make a fuss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    Sadly the plan will not work. I have lived in other cities, where this system has been tried and it did nothing except anger those who need to use their vehicles for work. It certainly made no appreciable difference to pollution levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Wasn't the UK being singled out for punishement by the EU for our polution levels? Are we even worse than Paris or are they more sensitive to bad air?

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    Rather than encourage us to buy new, "green" hybrid cars (which are worse polluters in some respects than conventional ones) encourage all motorists properly to maintain and keep their vehicles for several years. The resources thus saved from manufacturing fewer new ones will be there for the future. Even so, driving in central London holds no appeal for me personally.

  • Comment number 313.

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


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