The ongoing battle against infamous Parisian air pollution levels just got a whole lot worse.
For the first time in 20 years, the French capital has been forced to impose car restrictions and make public transport free for all over several consecutive days.
Each day of the "alternate traffic" plan, 50 percent of drivers are banned from using their cars to ease the smog spike.
The central city of Lyon was also set to bring in the restrictions on Friday and several other French towns have been hit by high pollution levels.
The crisis comes from a peculiar mix of usual air pollution and meteorological conditions, Karine Léger from the air quality monitoring network Airparif explains.
"It's mainly due to the emissions, the quantity of pollutants in the atmosphere, traffic and heating systems and wood burning. And all this is worsened by the very special weather conditions. The atmosphere is very stable and it’s aggravated Paris’s air pollution.”
Quicker than most of Europe
If it’s any consolation, Léger says Paris put anti-pollution measures in place earlier than most European cities. But she admits the car restrictions are not working. Figures show not enough people are taking public transport, even when it's free, to have a positive effect on countering pollution.
Paris administrators are planning to get tougher on the problem.
Deputy major Christophe Nadjovski, who is in charge of transport, says the current traffic measures, where only drivers with even-numbered registration plates are permitted in the city one day and odd numbers the next, are unsatisfactory, although they do cut pollution by about 15 percent.
In January the system will be replaced by antipollution stickers for cars, much more along the lines of polluter pays.
"It will be mandatory to have these stickers in Paris, in what we’re calling a restricted traffic zone ... a zone of low emissions," Nadjovski explains. "And it will be a fairer more efficient system because, when there is a pollution spike, it will be less polluting cars who are allowed in the city. Whereas currently we are making do with shoestring measure ... that’s the alternating bans by number plate."
Measures judged insufficient
But for some, including Daniel Quéro of the 40 Million Motorists organisation, accusing the authorities of choosing "anti-car solutions".
"In Germany for example their is a system for adapting older cars and people are given a subsidy by the government to fit their car with that non-polluting technology," he says. "Whereas in France solutions are being put forth without offering good alternatives."
A quick survey among commuters reveals that most people don’t feel that free transport is enough to compensate for the health risks of Paris pollution.
Doctors are witnessing spiraling respiratory problems and one study links air pollution to 48,000 deaths a year in France.
For now,there's not a lot of light at the end of the tunnel ... even in the City of Light. Authorities warn pollution levels could stay high for days as the sunny dry conditions remain.