With the streets of the city of lights and love becoming increasingly clogged with Hummers, Cayennes and Ford Explorers, Paris is trying to find ways to drive sport utility vehicles out of the French capital.
More and more sport utility vehicles are traversing the Champs Elysee these days
Paris traffic. You’ll never find it advertised in the tourist brochures, but it’s as much a part of life in the city as the Seine River or the Moulin Rouge. It’s estimated there are over 2.5 million vehicles in the Paris area. A growing number of these are what the French call "4x4s," better known in English as sports utility vehicles.
It’s hard to say how many SUVs are on the road, but a number of the city’s politicians are saying there are too many. In early June, the Paris City Council passed a non-binding resolution calling for local residents to keep the gas-guzzling vehicles off the city streets.
"These vehicles pollute more than others, they take up more room than other vehicles and they guzzle more gas than other vehicles," city council and Green Part y member Sylvain Garel told Deutsche Welle. "We think their use should be limited. Because we believe these kinds of vehicles have nothing to do in the city. SUVs make sense if live in the mountains or in the desert, but there is really no reason to have this kind of four-wheel power in the city."
The French Agency for the Environment and Energy (ADEME) tends to agree. It recently released a study that found that sedans release an average of 146 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. That figure tends to go up as the size of the vehicle increases. According to the agency, SUVs emit an average of 232 grams of carbon dioxide, 62 percent more than a sedan.
Parisian officials don't want bloated cars obscuring the city's spectacular views
In a densely population city like paris, with its winding streets, SUVs are just way out of proportion, Garel added. During a short walk through the Montmartre neighborhood, which Garel represents on the city council, Garel spotted a handful of SUVs, including a large black vehicle parked in the middle of the road.
"I’ve noticed that often, not always, but often, the owners of such vehicles, use the height and the power of their vehicles to park all over the place, on sidewalks or wherever. Now this one isn’t on the sidewalk, but it’s in the middle of the street. For me it shows a lack of respect for others."
'City Hall's latest whim'?
Over at the French Federation of Automobile Clubs and Road Users, you’ll hear a different tune. Officials there say there are many reasons to have a large vehicle, particularly if you have a large family. And that banning the vehicles from Paris or even restricting their use, would have a very limited impact on the city’s air quality.
Josiane Gorgibus, the group’s delegate general, dismisses the brouhaha over the SUVs as "city hall’s latest whim."
"SUVs are being targeted because they supposedly pollute," she said. "But today’s SUVs have the same motors as other vehicles their size. What’s more, these vehicles are pretty recent and conform to the latest emission standards. If they really wanted to fight air pollution, they would concentrate on taking the older vehicles off the road, because they don’t conform to today’s tough emission standards at all."
The Greens say they aren’t interested in going after owners of older vehicles, because unlike the SUV owners, they are the city’s poorest residents. Besides, they say, the number of older vehicles on the road keeps falling, while the number of SUVs continues to grow.
To keep the air breathable for all the city’s residents, the Green party has said it would like to prevent SUVs from circulating near the city’s large parks and a handful of neighborhoods. It would also like SUV owners to keep their cars in the garage on very hot days or when the air pollution index is high.
Not all SUV owners are against such restrictions – at least if they are kept in check.
Bobby is the owner of a black Toyota RAV 4, with tinted windows. He prefers not to give his last name. He bought it about two years ago. He knows his car is a real gas guzzler. It consumes 10 or 11 litres of gas every 100 kilometers. But he says that he would be perfectly willing to leave it at home during heat waves or when the pollution index is peaking.
To the French, SUVs belong in the desert or the mountains, not on the Champs Elysees.
"I think it’s fair," he said. "I’d we willing to park my car on very hot days. But the people at city hall can make an effort too. I’d like to see the price of the metro reduced on those days. I know SUVs pollute more. But I love my car. It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. I don’t know what more I can say. I just love it."
France wants to make SUVs more expensive
But opponents of the proposal say Paris City Hall is overstepping its bounds. They point out that as long as these vehicles are legally available for sale, it will be difficult to make a by-law to keep them off city streets. And enforcing a partial ban on SUVs would mean even more work, for the city’s already overstretched police force.
Meanwhile, France’s national government has announced a measure that may reduce the number of SUVs on the country’s roads. It announced this week, that as of 2005, people buying new vehicles that pollute will be taxed, while those buying cars that pollute less will receive a rebate. The measure is expected to add as much as €3,000 to the cost of a new sports utility vehicle.