To Fight Pollution, Paris Imposes Weekday Ban On Old Cars

Police patrol traffic in Paris as part of new anti-pollution measures aimed at punishing vehicles registered before 1997 that are forbidden to be driven during the week. Nearly 30 police officers stood guard on the morning of July 1, in the main squares of Paris to control and raise awareness among the drivers about the new measures.

Paris was at the forefront of public bike-sharing schemes, and it now has electric car-sharing schemes and is something of a laboratory for mobility. As of today, motorists with cars built before 1997, and motorcycles built before 2000, will no longer be able to drive them in the city during daylight hours on weekdays.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo says keeping old cars out of the city will help lower pollution levels. But not everyone is happy about it.

Marc Vernhet makes his living driving tourists around Paris in the classic French car known as the Deux Chevaux, or two-horse power. Peugeot Citroen no longer makes the model, but for collectors, it’s a nostalgic symbol of the good old days. Vernhet says tourists from all over the world want to ride in them.

Marc Vernhet drives tourists around Paris in his Deux Chevaux. Because he uses his car for tourism, Vernhet is exempt from the ban. hide caption

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“Tourists love that because they feel like real Parisians in the narrow streets of Paris,” he says.

Because he uses his car for tourism, Vernhet is exempt from the ban. For now. So are old car owners whose vehicles are listed as official collector’s items.

Antique car collectors were not the only ones to lobby against this new law. Pierre Chasseray, the executive director of an association called 40 Million Drivers, says the car ban discriminates against the poor and working class people.

“When you have an old car in France, it’s because you don’t have the money to buy a new one,” he says. “So you can’t say to this person that they can’t drive their car. They bought their car and they need their car. Public transport is a solution, but it’s not the solution for everybody.”

Christophe Najdovsky, the deputy Paris mayor in charge of transport and public space, says most low-income Parisians actually don’t own cars and do take public transport. The limits on old cars are about everyone’s right to breathe better air, he insists.

“We know that the major source of pollution in Paris is traffic,” he says. “Sixty-six percent of nitrogen dioxide and fine particles come from road traffic. And we know it’s old cars that spew out the most toxic fumes. That’s why we are progressively going to get rid of them.”

Najdovsky says the ban will affect only about 1,000 out of the 600,000 cars on the city’s streets every day.

The idea to restrict the most polluting cars gained traction last March, when the pollution levels in Paris briefly topped those of Beijing. That was partly due to an atmospheric phenomenon sometimes observed in the spring, known as inversion.

Romain Lacombe, the CEO of Plume Labs, a startup that tracks pollution levels in 400 cities, says inversion occurs when a lid of hot air on top of cold air traps the pollution on the ground.

“What happened more than a year ago now in Paris was a combination of an inversion layer and the usual pollution levels in the city,” he says. “So that was quite a crisis.”

The city responded by banning cars with even-numbered license plates one day and odd-numbered the next, until pollution levels came down.

For those caught flouting the new law, fines can go as high as $550. The new rules are some of the toughest restrictions on drivers in any European city. And they could get tougher. Hidalgo, the Paris mayor, has made no secret of her wish to ban all diesel cars from the city. They currently make up more than half the cars in France.