The French government has made its intentions clear, with Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne aiming to introduce London-style city centre tolls in a bid to keep pollution levels down in the country's largest towns and cities.
“Today, the law already allows local authorities to set up tolls, but only for experimental purposes and for only three years, which is too short given the investments that would need to be made. The law must be remedied,” said Minister of Transport, Elisabeth Borne in January.
And it looks like the minister could be one step closer to making her dream of congestion charges come true, with the move included in a draft law on mobility revealed by French political magazine Contexte on Wednesday.
The idea is that local authorities around France will have the choice of charging a vehicle an access fee in either all or some of the urban areas they are responsible for, with the charge collected as vehicles cross into the city.
Vehicles stand in a traffic jam at the entrance of Marseille on January 10, 2018. Photo: AFP
All this will be with the aim of “limiting car traffic and fighting against pollution and environmental nuisances”, according to the draft law.
So how much will drivers be asked to cough up?
When it comes to urban areas with more than 100,000 residents, the rate will be no higher than €2.50 for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles however this figure could double for cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants.
That means that motorists driving into cities like Paris and Marseille could end up paying €5.
Naturally larger vehicles would end up paying even more.
At the moment it has been suggested that they would have to pay a fairly hefty €20 to get into the biggest cities and €10 to get into cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants.
According to the draft law it would be up to local authorities to decide where exactly the congestion charge came into effect and they may also decide on “periods or situations in which the tariff is not collected”.
Rates could also be flexible, perhaps taking into account motorists who travel in and out of the city several times a day and it may even be free for residents.
Automated controls, fixed or mobile, may also be introduced to ensure that drivers are coughing up the charge.
This new congestion charge could also be combined with new low-emission zones where highly polluting vehicles are restricted or banned altogether.
By the end of 2020, these zones will be in place in around 20 cities in France, including Paris and the Greater Paris area but also Lyon, Grenoble and Marseille, suggesting that these cities will have a particularly tough police against traffic.
Traffic jam in Bordeaux. Photo: AFP
However, even if tolls are known to reduce traffic congestion, pollution and encourage people to use public transport, the idea that there could be London-style “congestion charges” imposed in French towns and cities has naturally raised the alarm among French motorist groups.
“We know for a fact that some people cannot do without a car. So this will only create a segregation between those who will have the means to pay the toll and can continue to move safely, and those for whom this extra tax will be just too much,” said Pierre Chasseray, general delegate of the association 40 million motorists in January.
And it's not just motorist groups who would be against the idea of charging drivers to enter city centres.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has declared her own war on the voiture in recent years, has already spoken out against the idea and refused to back the suggestion of a Paris congestion charge in October last year.
However since then the mayor of Paris seems to have modified her opinion on congestion charges, if only slightly.
Traffic in Lyon. Photo: AFP
On Wednesday Hidalgo said that while Paris will not rush to introduce the charges, she is no longer totally against the idea as long as there was some way to avoid penalising households with a modest income.
Meanwhile, Toulouse has said it is totally against the plan but Marseille has not totally excluded the suggestion and in Lyon authorities have said that while they are against the congestion charge for residents, they could start charging visitors.
But it looks like the transport minister has a fight on her hands if congestion tolls are ever to see the light of day.