French roads are becoming more pecuniary and pénible. The worst changes are happening to drivers in Paris. Car-sharing service Heetch was shut down by a court decision, forcing them to pay €500K in fines and court fees. The judge saw a big difference between BlaBlaCar’s model, where the driver decides the route, and Heech’s, where the passenger decides, like in a taxi.
In 2014, Paris elected a new mayor, Anne Hidalgo. She’s from the socialist party, or the PS, on the left, so you’d expect her to be more concerned with ecological issues, and have a people-pleasing manner. Well, she’s one out of two. If Ralph Nader had a child with Napoleon, it would be her.
While many residents agree that changes in transportation should be made toward alternatives causing less pollution and noise, citizens expect advanced notice, to have their views heard, and a time to adapt. That’s not what you get with Ms. Hidalgo. She dictates new measures which are confusing to follow, much less adhere to, and they take immediate effect with severe penalties for non-compliance. Her public enemy number one: the automobile.
Auto access to the capital has been drastically reduced. No cars older than 20 years may enter the city limits. That’s 10% of all cars. Bus access to the capital has also diminished, as 26% of busses are 20 years old. Mass confusion ensued. It’s not as if you can sell or exchange your car right away, or easily alter your mode of transportation with a snap of the fingers. Tour groups from foreign countries which plan group excursions months in advance only discovered the new legislation upon entering the city. What a way to welcome tourists to the most visited city in the world. A city which is going to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Since Ms. Hidalgo’s measures began, a new record was set with 484 kilometers of traffic jams around Paris. Commuters spent 90 hours in Parisian traffic jams in 2016, which is 12 1/2 hours more in one year, a 16% increase.
Once they are authorized to enter, and newer cars and buses finally get into the city, there’s fewer places they can legally go. The widest street in the capital, the Champs-Elysées, becomes pedestrian only on the first Sunday of every month. This isn’t widely known, nor is it noted with signs on the way there. You just drive along until you meet a barrier, without any suggested deviation. Then you follow a line of similarly blocked cars into another barrier. There’s nowhere for you to go, and no instructions out of the labyrinth. You’ve just been Hidalgoed!
Every day of every month, the three kilometers of lanes along the river, known as voies sur berge de la Seine, have been converted to pedestrian-only. While that now makes it a bit wider to stroll along the banks of the river, it’s still visually concrete, asphalt and block walls. Inland from the river, along sidewalk cafés and street benches, is now a maelstrom of motor noise (+125%), honking and exhaust. These major arteries were shut off without thought as to where all the cars would go, 43 000 per day. The result is that in six months, there’s been an enormous shift of traffic going by the streets of the interior, taking up to 73% longer to cross. This shift included an overnight 88% increase in traffic on the street passing right in front of City Hall. Maybe the mayor appreciates a close-up view of the mayhem she causes?
How effective are Ms. Hidalgo’s measures? Well, for one, reducing the speed limit on all 35 kilometers of the Péripherique from 80km/h to 70km/h has only made things worse. Traffic became bunched up and less fluid, more fuel is consumed, pollution has increased and there are more accidents. There are more tickets issued, so the government’s revenues go up, but drivers are unnecessarily penalized and residents receive zero benefit.
A similar measure in the city of Rennes, France was finally scrapped when a study proved no benefit to reducing the speed limit to 70km/h. No bother, Ms. Hidalgo persists, insisting there have been unproven improvements.
Ms. Hidalgo’s fellow PS partisan, former environment minister Ségolene Royale, introduced new emissions tagging legislation with the same confusion and lack of preparation. Initially, Paris reacted to pollution peaks by a system called circulation alternée, restricting or penalizing cars. Odd license plates were allowed into the city on odd-numbered days of the month. Even on even. But what constitutes odd and even on a French license plate? If it’s the last number on a plate, well, entire ‘départements’ could be restricted. This is because a large number of license plates in France end with the two numbers which commence their postal code. Folks from the Val-d’Oise (95) must keep their cars out of Paris on even days; folks from the Yvelines (78) must stay out on odd days. And what about those who live in Paris (75)? Must they drive out of the city to park on even days? Isn’t the whole idea to get LESS people using cars?
What replaced ‘alternate circulation’ was a series of five color-coded stickers, called Crit’Air. You go online and type in your car’s details, and pay €4.18, then you receive the sticker corresponding to your vehicle’s propensity to pollute. You must display the sticker on your car or risk getting fined when you enter Paris. While having very little impact on the quality of the air, Crit’Air does substantially grow the State’s coffers. Only five days after its introduction, €4 Million in new funds were collected from drivers.
If you think to yourself, “Crit’Air doesn’t affect me because I don’t live in the Paris region,” think again. It applies to any car which drives into Paris, or other major French cities, even once. If you’re from Dijon and you drive to Grenoble once a year, they expect you to have the sticker. If you’re from the UK, or Belgium or the Netherlands, it applies to your trip to Lyon, too. German cities thought this was such a good idea, they adopted a similar system for Berlin… with a different sticker, of course. Soon European delivery drivers won’t be able to see out of their windshield with all the stickers they’ll need for every municipality.
An anti-car bombshell was announced in July by Madame Royale’s replacement, Nicolas Hulot. By 2040, France plans to outright ban diesel cars, AND all gasoline-powered cars as well. The sale of fuel for these cars will also be prohibited. They expect that in 23 years, 99% of all cars currently on the roads will be replaced by electric, or clean-fuel alternatives. Mayor Hidalgo upped the ante by expressing her goal of banning all gasoline cars in 13 years, and diesel vehicles in 3 years. More than half of all cars on the road today in the Paris region run on diesel.
These officials have too much faith in technology. The internet is around 23 years old. Yet many, many organizations today are still dependent on legacy systems, notably government agencies. They know there’s no way they can reach their goal, nor are they putting alternative measures in place to make it even remotely achievable.
Security cameras installed on streetlamps can now be used to dole out tickets, without warning. These ones have actual humans behind the screens looking for one false move. In Paris alone, 1 200 cameras have enabled watchful authorities to dole out more than 150 000 tickets for such infractions as not wearing a seatbelt or eating while driving. It’s not just suspect streets like la rue de la Grande-Truanderie (Great Gangsterism road) or la rue des Mauvais-Garçons (Bad Boy road). The Parisian police suspect we’re ALL criminals. More cameras will be installed near the Charles De Gaulle airport. Big Brother is now Grand Frère Jacques, and he’s never sleeping.
European states have started sharing data with each other in an attempt to catch radar speeders with out-of-country plates. This move was covered in my previous post ‘Frontier Land.’ Employers are now obligated to denounce their employees for radar pictures of a company car speeding.
Private companies are being deployed to manage and increase the number of mobile radars, and use them aboard common cars to trap unsuspecting motorists. In a 2016 test, these unmarked cars flashed 1,9 million times. Now, all 383 cars will be deployed in September 2017, and should easily capture an additional 15 million infractions annually, on top of the 20 million already from the fixed radars. France was already the most pecuniary country in the world for motorists. Now, they stand poised to double the amount they collect from fines in a single year.
A backlash is inevitable. It’s starting with an initiative by 40 millions d’automobilistes. The association encourages all concerned citizens to massively telephone Anne Hidalgo at +33 1 42 76 48 11 and let her know how you feel.
The automobile used to be a symbol of freedom, of pleasure and shared sensations. Today, it’s simply the quickest way between point A (the authorities) and point B (your wallet).
© Copyright Joe Start. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2017
Portions of this post were re-printed from the book French License.