France is set to introduce driving restrictions in Paris to tackle dangerous pollution levels, the first such ban for 20 years as politicians try to get rid of health-threatening smog days before municipal elections.
Under the scheme, to be introduced on Monday, drivers may only use their cars on alternate days, according to the odd or even numbers on their licence plates.
Free public transport, including cycle and electric car-sharing schemes, was introduced last week as a visible haze hung over Paris streets, the Reuters news agency reported.
The restrictions in the French capital and 22 surrounding areas will come into force from 04:30 GMT and could be extended until Tuesday, officials said.
Our core objective is to ensure public safety because we want to end this pollution
About 700 police officers will be deployed to man 60 checkpoints to ensure that only cars and motorcycles with number plates ending in odd digits are on the roads, the AFP news agency reported.
Electric and hybrid cars will be exempted from the ban as well as any vehicle carrying three people or more.
Parking will be free on Monday for vehicles with even number plates, the Paris city hall said, calling on residents to consult carpooling or car-sharing sites to work out their commutes and rides.
The restrictions will be reviewed on a daily basis to determine if an extension is necessary.
Paris is more prone to smog than other European capitals because of France’s diesel subsidies and its high number of private car drivers. A week-long spell of unseasonably warm, sunny weather has recently exacerbated the problem.
“Our core objective is to ensure public safety because we want to end this pollution,” Environment Minister Philippe Martin told a news conference on Sunday, warning that the air quality was likely to worsen on Monday.
Last week, European Environment Agency figures for Thursday showed there was 147 microgrammes of particulate matter per cubic metre of air in Paris – compared with 114 in Brussels, 104 in Amsterdam, 81 in Berlin and 79.7 in London.
‘Attempt to win votes’
Political opponents and car associations criticised the decision, 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.
Opposition UMP chief Jean-Francois Cope, who is also mayor of Meaux in the suburbs of Paris, said there was a lot of confusion about the scheme.
“The ecologists have applied a lot of pressure on the government and the decision was rushed … It lacks coherence, explanation and – on the ground, as a mayor from one of Paris’s suburbs – it’s panic,” he told Europe 1 radio.
The last restricted driving scheme was introduced in October 1997 in response to pollution from heavy diesel fumes. It lasted one day.