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Paris orders drivers with even number plates off the road...
A one-day scheme to cut air pollution in Paris has been deemed a success, as police hand out 4,000 fines to enforce a scheme to cut traffic following five days of smog.
Motorists in Paris were gearing up for a radical change to their commute after the government introduced alternate driving days to alleviate the veil of smog that has hung over the city for days.
It was billed as the most drastic curb on car use in Paris in 20 years - one to stop an evil smog enveloping the Eiffel Tower and much of the French capital.
Hundreds of police manned checkpoints around Paris from dawn, to stop any car whose number plate ended with an even number from entering the city.
Drivers who defied the alternate-day ban faced on-the-spot fines of €22 (£18.50) or €35 if they paid within three days. And judging by the statistics, it was a success.
By midday on Sunday, Paris police said they had handed out nearly 4,000 fines to drivers not respecting the restriction, aimed at reducing the “dangerously” high levels of harmful particles that have blighted the atmosphere for five straight days. There was half the usual number of traffic jams.
Yet droves of Parisians could still be seen driving around in their “banned” vehicles – either pleading total ignorance or hoping the police would turn a blind eye.
At a busy crossing next to Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris’ northeastern 20th arrondissement, police were stopping cars every minute to inquire as to why they were on the road with an even number plate.
“I thought zero was an odd number,” pleaded Jules Taieb, 68, rather unconvincingly, who runs a prêt à porter clothes business. Like many Parisians, the motorist had left his own car in the garage and rented a vehicle he believed was allowed on the road. “We decided to let him off as we think his mistake was in good faith,” said a police officer.
Seconds later, a second driver was invited to pull over, but received nothing more than a ticking off over his exhaust pipe. “The cops were nice. I’m not supposed to be on the road, but they totally let me off,” said Jonathan Hattab, 32, a salesman from Charenton, outside Paris. “I work with my car, but don’t have any proof of that, bar a business card.”
Commercial, electric and hybrid cars, as well as any vehicle carrying three people or more, are exempted from the ban - the first since 1997.
“Personally I think this is stupid. This is a political stunt two weeks from municipal elections. It’s not about saving the planet,” added Mr Hattab.
Other motorists were more understanding.
Cherif Bacha, 46, an electrician at Orly airport, entered Paris on his scooter for a dental appointment with an even number plate. “I work nights and didn’t see the news yesterday and had no idea about this rule,” he said. But he supported the move and already wore a mesh over his nose and mouth to fight pollution.
“I blame Fukushima and the Chinese. The rot started when they dumped their bikes for cars,” he claimed.
Pedestrian Cyrielle Nicolas, 27, a make up artist and hairdresser, said she had suffered swollen eyes for the past few days. But she questioned the timing.
“The problem of pollution in Paris is nothing new – we get spikes every year so why the car ban now? We need longer term measures otherwise nothing will change. I think we should follow London and make cars pay to enter the city centre.” Taxi drivers, meanwhile, confirmed that there were far less cars on the road.
“It’s very fluid”, said Sami Iazogen, 28. “But this measure has come too late. If they’d done it last week I would have understood, but today you can feel the air is already clearing up – it’s cooler and windier and by tomorrow it will have all blown over.”
His prediction proved entirely accurate as by mid-afternoon, the government announced a lifting of the partial ban due to a “clear tendency towards an improvement” in air quality.
Parisians with odd numbered number plates can breathe easy – for now