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France

Thousands fined as Parisians flout pollution traffic ban

© Photo: AFP

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2014-03-18

France took the drastic step of banning cars with license plates ending in an even number from driving in Paris and its suburbs Monday in an effort to curb a dangerous spike in pollution. The ban will be lifted on Tuesday.

But exhibiting a typical Parisian disregard for the rules, many have chosen to ignore Monday's restrictions and risk the wrath of the police and a €22 fine (rising to €35 if not paid on the spot).

By midday, some 4,000 fines had already been handed out to drivers breaking the traffic ban – seven and a half hours after the measure, known as “alternating traffic”, had come into effect.

Despite public transport being made free, some felt they had no other option but to drive to work or take their children to school.

“I know it's not great to say it but I'm willing to take my car and pay the fine to get my kids to school, because I don't have the choice,” said one woman.

Others, like bank worker Gilles Giorgi, seemed to have been caught out by accident.

"I made a mistake in my head, I reversed my number, 718 instead of 817,” he told lemonde.fr after being fined by the police.

On social media, disgruntled Parisians questioned the motives behind both the decision to limit traffic and the fines being handed out.

“The state will fill its pockets ... and it is always those who have no choice that pay,” said @Candy_Mouffle on Twitter.

A running poll by lepoint.fr showed that, as of 12.30pm, 65 percent of the public were against the vehicle ban, with 35 percent in favour.

‘Bound to lead to chaos’

Motoring groups were also angered by the measure.

France's Automobile Club Association (ACA) denounced the move as "hasty, ineffective" and "bound to lead to chaos".

"This measure had no effect in any country where it was introduced," said ACA head Didier Bollecker.

"Drivers are being targeted even though heating is more polluting, but no one is asking for heating to be used on alternate days."

But despite not everyone following the rules, the restrictions seemed to be having the desired effect, with authorities noting half the usual number of traffic jams in the Paris region.

And for those who were allowed to drive their cars, the empty roads meant journey times were slashed.

"30 minutes to get to Argenteuil, it’s great this alternating traffic!” said Twitter user @Mahfouda_b.

Taxi drivers and car hire companies were also enjoying a boom in business.

"It is sure we will have more clients today," a delighted taxi driver told AFP.

"There are people who take their car because they don't want to be pressed up against others in the metro. Today they will take a taxi."

The Paris region has been hit by a sharp spike in pollution in the past few days, brought on by climactic conditions -- hot days and cold nights with no rain and little wind -- that are making it difficult for pollutant particles to disperse.

Doctors have warned the high pollution levels pose significant health risks, with the potential to cause asthma attacks as well as respiratory and heart problems.

Time-lapse video of air pollution peak in Paris, Dec. 2013

Date created : 2014-03-17

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