Paris Introduces More ‘Anti-Car’ Measures

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.

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Circulation alternée: Here We Go Again

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.

 

 

 

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Health at a Glance: Inequality in the EU

“More effective prevention and quality care are needed to achieve further gains in population health and reduce health inequalities in EU countries.” This is the key finding of the OECD’s report Health at a Glance: Europe 2016. Though life expectancy rose from 74.2 years in 1990 to 80.9 years in 2014, people in Western European countries continue to live longer, on average, than those in Central and Eastern European countries. Meanwhile, within countries, there are inequalities between people with higher levels of education and income and the more disadvantaged.

Unsurprisingly, France has one of the highest rates of smoking, with 22.4% of adults being daily smokers. Others, like myself, might find that figure surprisingly low. In the UK, 19% of adults are regular smokers. Along with Spain (23%), it is one of the countries to have reduced the smoking rate most drastically since 2000.

eu-smokers

What is particularly concerning from France’s perspective is the smoking rate among teenagers, of whom one fifth smoke at least once a week – the European average is one in seven. Indeed, one of the main differences I have noticed between my home and host countries is that smoking is clearly on the decline among young Brits, whereas in France that is not the case – there is nothing to suggest that young people smoke any less than their parents or grandparents.

Contrary to popular opinion, the report also reveals the French to be heavier drinkers than the Brits. The French drink on average 11.5 litres of pure alcohol per year, per person, whereas the British drink just 9.4 litres. This is not the first report to produce such results; similar data was released last year. But of course, figures alone don’t account for drinking culture; nobody can argue with the fact that the UK has a serious binge problem.

eu-drinkers

Another warning sign for the UK is obesity; 20.1% of adults are obese, a rate which is far higher than that of any other EU country. While just 15.3% of French adults are obese, that number has shot up since 2000 and there is a lot of room for improvement. For example, only 57.6% of French adults eat vegetables on a daily basis, in comparison to 65.7% of adults in the UK.

eu-obesity

Some harsh truths are reiterated in this report and the concise summary is well worth a read.

 

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