Paris makes public transport free to battle pollution spike

A spike in air pollution in Paris has pushed authorities on Tuesday to bar many drivers from using their cars, but they've also made public transport free for the day. Except the public transport isn't all working.

Paris makes public transport free to battle pollution spike
Photo: AFP

Authorities in Paris have decided to restrict vehicle use on Tuesday by imposing alternating traffic in the capital and its surrounding suburbs after air pollution once again reached high levels in the region.

Only cars with an even number registration plate (the first set of numbers), electric or hybrid vehicles and vehicles with more than three people on board are allowed to drive on Tuesday.

The rule does not impact vehicles used for ride sharing, emergency vehicles or vehicles used for delivering food or foreign vehicles.

Authorities have also made public transport free across the city in a measure that could cost them up to €4million.

However, Tuesday morning saw serious delays to the RER B commuter line, due to electrical faults between Gare du Nord and CDG airport. Line A also saw disruptions. 

The RATP said the disruptions on the RER B line would last until 6pm between Gare du Nord and the airport, and until Wednesday morning between the airport and Aulnay-Sous-Bois. 

And the roads, which were supposed to be less busy than usual, saw 370 kilometres worth of traffic jams at around 9am. 

If pollution levels don't improve then the restrictions will be imposed on Wednesday except it will be the turn of odd numbered vehicles to be able to drive.

Police promise tough measures against drivers who ignore the restrictions, including the impounding of vehicles. Most will be hit by €22 fines or €35 if they don't pay upfront.

Some 140 police check points will be set up around the city to catch “odd” drivers.

Residential parking is free and speed limits on most roads have been reduced to 20km/h.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has taken various measures to improve air quality in the city including a plan to diesel vehicles and bar older heavy goods vehicles from the centre of the city. 

On Tuesday Hidalgo called on citizens to use clean modes of transport such as Velib and Autolib, which are public sharing services for bicycles and electric cars during “this particularly long episode of air pollution”.

The Airparif Association, an environmental body responsible for monitoring air quality of Ile-de-France, expected the pollution index to be high on Tuesday due to increased pollutant of PM10, particulate matter measuring less than 10 microns – considered the most dangerous to people's health.

According to the Agency for Environment and Energy Management (Ademe), in Ile-de-France, road traffic is responsible for two-thirds of nitrogen dioxide emissions and 55% of small particulate emissions in Paris. 

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Paris faces legal claim over lead pollution from Notre-Dame fire

Paris authorities have been accused of failing to safeguard the health of people living near Notre-Dame cathedral due to lead pollution from a devastating fire two years ago.

Paris faces legal claim over lead pollution from Notre-Dame fire
A complaint has been lodged over lead pollution in Paris from the devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral Photo: Fabien Barrau | AFP

Local families along with the Paris branch of the CGT trade union and the anti-pollution association Henri Pezerat, have filed the legal complaint alleging city and public health authorities endangered lives.

“Despite the scale of the fire and knowledge about the risk of pollution and contamination… no precaution in particular was taken by the authorities involved for more than three months after the fire,” according to a copy of the complaint seen by AFP.

It says 400 tonnes of lead from the roof of the Gothic masterpiece melted or were dispersed as microparticles over the French capital during the blaze on April 15, 2019.

“Children (in crèches and schools), neighbours and workers have clearly been exposed to the risk of lead” pollution, the complaint adds. “These facts amount to the crime of endangering the lives of others.”

The square in front of the cathedral was closed again to the public in May this year after tests revealed high concentrations of toxic lead particles.

Several months after the fire, city authorities ordered a deep-clean of schools in the area, while children and pregnant women were urged to have blood tests.

The complaint says the city withheld information from school directors and failed to act promptly. It also targets the police department, the culture ministry and regional health authorities.

The efforts of firefighters ensured the great medieval edifice survived the fire despite the collapse of the spire and much of the roof being destroyed.

But the lead risks delayed work on clearing debris and launching the restoration effort for the landmark, which President Emmanuel Macron wants open for visitors in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze, but they have said an accident, possibly caused by a short circuit or discarded cigarette butt, remains the most likely explanation.