French pollution-peak traffic controls agreed

Exclusion of uncatalysed diesels from "green disc" scheme seen as victory for Voynet

The French government has agreed a scheme to limit traffic in major urban centres during air pollution emergencies, the newspaper Libération reported today. After strong pressure from environment minister Dominique Voynet, only "low-pollution" vehicles carrying a "green disc," and half the rest of the fleet will be allowed to travel in affected areas during pollution alerts.

The decision was taken yesterday at Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's official residence. An official announcement of the meeting's outcome has been fixed for 11 February, and official sources would not publicly confirm or deny the report carried in Libération. ENDS Daily nevertheless understands that the details reported are correct.

According to the newspaper, number plate controls and a green disc scheme for low-pollution vehicles will be instituted simultaneously if pollution levels approach or pass "level 3" on the national scale. For nitrogen dioxide, one of the main pollutants involved in urban smog episodes in France, the level 3 threshold is 400 micrograms per cubic metre.

Under the green disc scheme, electric and natural gas vehicles, as well as catalysed diesel cars sold since 1997 and catalysed petrol cars sold since 1993, will be allowed to travel in affected areas during pollution episodes. According to Libération, about 30% of all vehicles on the road today will qualify immediately for the green disc, the vast majority of them petrol-driven cars.

The exclusion of uncatalysed diesel cars appears to be a small victory for Ms Voynet over the transport and industry ministries, which wanted all diesel vehicles to be eligible if they passed strict pollution tests. France is one of the most diesel-dependent countries in Europe, with close to half its entire vehicle fleet running on the fuel. The environment ministry's attempt to exclude uncatalysed diesels from the green disc was seen by the transport sector as "anti-diesel".

The second half of the deal reached yesterday is a system of vehicle number plate controls known as "circulation alternée". A vehicle without a green disc will be able to travel during pollution episodes only on "odd" days if its number plate ends with an odd number, and only on even days if its plate ends with an even number.

Taking into account exceptions for public service vehicles, the measures agreed yesterday are expected to result in a 15% cut in overall traffic levels during pollution peaks. This is about the level achieved in the Paris region in October last year when number plate controls were applied for the first time (ENDS Daily 9 October 1997).

Follow Up:
French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21.

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