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Paris to trial first city centre car ban

Paris is set to become Europe’s first city to test a complete ban on high-consumption vehicles entering the city centre. The test continues a trend aimed at improving urban air quality by limiting vehicle’s access to urban centres, but the EU’s environment commissioner insists there will be no review of the national pollutant emissions ‘ceilings’ until 2013 at the earliest.

Until now, a number of cities have experimented with limiting access to the city centre, but Paris could be the first to ban certain vehicles altogether. Later this year it plans to test restrictions on vehicles that emit more than a certain amount of carbon dioxide per kilometre. An official of the mayor’s office said on a radio programme: ‘I’m sorry, but having a sport utility vehicle in a city makes no sense.’

Like other cities with restrictions – or charges – on vehicles entering the city centre, Paris plans to exempt electric vehicles. These are exempt from the London congestion charge (currently €12 a day), and sales of electric vehicles have rocketed.

All 27 EU member states have national emissions ‘ceilings’ for four major pollutants, and many cities continue to exceed their limits. The EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik says the Commission agrees that reducing air pollution from transport is ‘a pressing need’, but will not review the actual ceilings until 2013, despite a requirement in the original directive for them to be reviewed last year.

One European city is abandoning moves that have reduced its air pollution. Barcelona is scrapping an 80 km/h limit introduced in 2008 to lower NOx and PM10 emissions compared with the original 120 km/h limit. The move was a promise by the nationalist CiU at the last regional (Catalan) elections.

Catalunya’s interior minister said the 80 km/h limit was ‘irrational, because it has not produced significant changes’. But this is contradicted by a report published four months ago by the Catalan environment ministry showing that the lower speed limit had reduced NOx and PM10 emissions by around 12%.

Barcelona has significantly exceeded permitted levels of nitrogen dioxide. So has Madrid where T&E member Ecologistas en Acción revealed this month that good pollution measurements were the result of the city having moved nearly half its pollution sensors from busy streets to parks and gardens that were well away from traffic.