Paris lifts partial car ban after drop in pollution
French police monitor motorists close to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on March 17, 2014 - by Francois Guillot
About 700 police officers were deployed to man 60 checkpoints around the French capital to ensure only cars with plates where numbers end with an odd digit were out on the streets, infuriating motorist organisations.
Public transport has been free since Friday to persuade Parisians to leave their cars at home, and at rush hour on Monday morning, authorities noted there were half the usual number of traffic jams as drivers grudgingly conformed to the ruling.
Some, though, appeared unaware of the restrictions that came into force across Paris and 22 surrounding areas from 5:30 am (0430 GMT) -- or chose to ignore them.
"It's great, it's a fantastic decision and you are doing marvellous work," a young motorist sarcastically told the police who fined him for violating the ban.
Ecology Minister Philippe Martin said Monday's ban has "led to results" showing "a clear trend of improvement" which meant it would not be necessary to continue the measure into Tuesday.
He thanked the public for their cooperation, saying "90 percent of the cars on the city's roads today had odd numberplates."
The government decided to implement the ban on Saturday after pollution particulates in the air exceeded safe levels for five straight days in Paris and neighbouring areas, enveloping the Eiffel Tower in a murky haze.
On Monday, Airparif, an official monitor for air quality in Paris and neighbouring areas, said pollution levels had since fallen.
Those who chose to defy the ban risked a fine of 22 euros ($30) if paid immediately, or 35 euros if paid within three days.
By midday Monday, Paris police said they had doled out nearly 4,000 fines to drivers not respecting the restriction.
Electric and hybrid cars, as well as any vehicle carrying three people or more, were exempted from the ban -- the first of its kind since 1997.
- Ban is 'hasty, ineffective' -
The issue has become something of a political football, with less than a week to go before key municipal elections.
The opposition UMP candidate for Paris mayor, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, called the measure a "fig leaf".
Others complained that the free public transport came at a cost.
Socialist party member Jean-Paul Huchon, who is also head of the STIF organisation that oversees transport in Paris and neighbouring areas, said STIF stood to lose 4 million euros a day.
France's Automobile Club Association (ACA), which counts some 760,000 members, denounced the move as "hasty, ineffective."
"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."
Similar measures were used in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, and the result was so successful that the city continues to apply them once a week.
In Paris, authorities measure the concentration of particulates with a diameter of less than 10 microns -- so-called PM10 -- in the air to determine pollution levels.
PM10 are created by vehicles, heating and heavy industry, and include the most dangerous particles that measure less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and the blood system and are cancer-causing.
The safe limit for PM10 is set at 80 microgrammes per cubic metre (mcg/m3). At its peak last week, Paris hit a high of 180 mcg/m3 but this had fallen to 75 mcg/m3 by Monday.
According to a 2011 World Health Organisation report, the planet's most polluted city was Ahvaz in Iran with an average of 372 microgrammes per cubic metre.
Beijing had an average of 121 mcg/m3, while Paris was measured at 38 mcg/m3.