On Monday, it became compulsory for all motorised vehicles circulating in Paris to display the Crit’Air badge, which indicates pollution levels. Older vehicles with particularly high pollution levels don’t qualify for the badge, and are therefore forbidden. Others that qualify but that still have high pollution levels are also due be phased out in the not so distant future.
The Crit’Air badge is the latest in a series of measures designed to reduce traffic within Paris; as Le Monde explains, the city has set itself the objective of halving the number of vehicles and completely eradicating diesel by 2020 – quite a tall order.
Deputy Mayor Christophe Najdovski, who is a member of the Europe Ecology – The Greens party and oversees transport policy, has claimed in interviews that Paris and the Ile de France region has “one of the best public transport systems in the world”.
This depends on how you look at it. Public transport is good value for money in and around Paris, but there are other problems that mean people are either unwilling, or quite simply unable, to use it. In December, when traffic was reduced drastically due to dangerous pollution levels, the public transport system struggled to cope with higher demand.
Meanwhile, the fact that very few metro stations are equipped with escalators, let alone lifts, renders that particular mode of public transport all but inaccessible to those with limited mobility. The cleanliness of many stations also leaves a lot to be desired. I take the line 4 every day, which admittedly is a bad example as it’s currently under renovation. But take Châtelet – it’s one of the busiest metro stations in the world, yet there are wires hanging from the ceiling and half plastered walls. It’s been that way since I first moved to Paris over two years ago.
Then, of course, there’s the issue that has arguably caused more disruption to public transport over the years than any other: strikes. This week the BBC ran an article about BlaBlaCar, the online ride-sharing company whose big break came when, in 2007, the French rail network was paralysed due to industrial action and customers were forced to look for alternative solutions. This was exactly the situation I found myself in last summer, when another nationwide rail strike threatened to scupper my holiday plans. I, like many others, turned to BlaBlaCar.
The fact that those in government are prioritising the reduction of vehicle pollution in Paris is no bad thing – when you examine the statistics regarding the number of deaths linked to poor air quality in the city, it’s impossible to argue otherwise. However, there are some serious shortcomings as far as public transport is concerned, and they need to be addressed if all these anti-car measures are to run according to plan.