Air quality in Paris dominated headlines this week, as once again pollution levels hit a dangerous high. This led to four days of ‘circulation alternée’, a measure which means only certain vehicles are permitted and public transport charges are suspended.
Suffice to say these measures caused a lot more problems than they solved, the most glaring of which being the shortcomings of the public transport system. Tuesday evening saw the interruption of trains between the main Gare du Nord station and Charles de Gaulle airport, while on Wednesday traffic coming in and out of the Gare du Nord was once again suspended due to a power cut. The upshot of all this was clear: there’s no use encouraging people to make greater use of public transport if the latter cannot cope with an increased load.
What’s more, circulation alternée doesn’t even seem to have tackled the problem at hand. Le Monde estimates that traffic was reduced by just 5-10%. This is partly due to lack of enforcement, and partly due to insufficient sanctions. Unauthorised motorists were faced with a fine of just 35 euros, which was reduced to 22 euros if paid on the spot. That’s a small price to pay for the sake of being able to carry on using your car.
Air quality has become a top priority for governments in recent years. London mayor Sadiq Khan recently pledged to more than double funding to clean up the city’s air, and is holding a second air quality consultation. Meanwhile, over 150 MPs have signed a pledge put forward by Greener UK, a group of 13 environmental organisations, which states that “following the EU referendum, the UK government, working with administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, must build a healthy and prosperous future for all.”
Paris – along with Madrid, Athens and Mexico City – has pledged to eradicate diesel cars by 2025. And as of January 16th 2017, motorists will be required to display a sticker indicating a vehicle’s pollution levels. It’s easy to understand motorists’ frustration when they are forced to alter their habits. But when you consider that pollution causes 50 000 premature deaths in the city per year (as many as alcohol), it’s difficult to argue against the need for change.