France is limiting vehicle use in the capital Paris on Monday amid a spike in pollution to health-threatening levels, only the second time the drastic measure has been introduced in nearly two decades.
A system of “alternating traffic”, whereby vehicle use is restricted to alternate days depending on licence plate numbers, came into effect in Paris and its 22 surrounding suburbs at 5.30 am (04.30 GMT) on Monday morning, as the city tries to curb dangerous pollution levels.
The radical move has seen around 700 police officers deployed to 60 checkpoints around the French capital to ensure that only cars with number plates ending in odd numbers are out on the streets.
Parking is free on Monday for vehicles with even number plates, the Paris city hall announced, calling on residents to consult carpooling or car-sharing sites to work out their travel plans.
A decision will then be taken as to whether to extend the measure into Tuesday “depending on how the situation evolves”, a statement from the office of French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, with odd numbers potentially banned on Tuesday if an extension is deemed necessary.
Free public transport
Electric and hybrid cars will be exempted from the ban as well as any vehicle carrying three people or more.
It is the first time since 1997 that the French authorities have resorted to such a drastic measure.
Paris and much of northern France have been suffering under high pollution levels for several days after an extended period of cool, dry nights with much warmer daytime temperatures – climactic conditions that do not allow pollutant particles to disperse.
Paris is also more prone to smog than other European capitals because of France's diesel subsidies and its high number of private car drivers.
Last week European Environment Agency (EEA) figures for Thursday showed there was 147 microgrammes of particulate matter (PM) per cubic metre of air in Paris - compared with 114 in Brussels, 104 in Amsterdam, 81 in Berlin and 79.7 in London.
Pollution breaches maximum alert levels
Friday saw pollution levels in the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, hit peaks of 180 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre of air, far beyond the maximum alert level of 80 micrograms.
On Friday, Paris transport authorities announced that travellers could use public transport for free throughout the weekend due to the “significant risks to the health of residents” posed by the pollution spike. It will remain free as long as the alternate driving days remain in force.
Political opponents and car associations criticised the restrictions, saying it would be tough to police, and accused the Socialist government of conceding to pressure from its coalition Green partners ahead of local elections in late March.
"This is impossible to enforce, stupid and an attempt to win votes," Pierre Chasseray, president of drivers' lobby 40 Millions d'Autombolistes, told French television and newspapers.
"The prime minister is aware of the difficulties that this may cause to the everyday lives of Parisians" a statement said. "But this is a necessary measure."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-17