PARIS, March 17 France deployed hundreds of
police in Paris on Monday to enforce the most drastic curbs on
car use in 20 years as authorities sought to reduce
health-endangering pollution days before town hall elections.
Amid concerns of a worsening air quality after a week when
unseasonally balmy weather boosted pollution, public transport
was free of charge while drivers with even-numbered licence
plates were told to leave their cars at home of face fines.
Paris is more prone to smog than other European capitals
because of France's diesel subsidies and its high number of
private car drivers.
Some 700 police manned key entry points to the city from
before dawn to apply the scheme, in which drivers may only use
their cars on alternate days depending on whether their licence
plates finished with an odd or even number.
"This is a public health problem ... and we thank everyone
who has fallen into line," Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier
said, adding that early results showed traffic tailbacks had
been shrunk by 60 percent in the Monday morning rush hours.
While nowhere near levels seen in some Asian cities,
European Environment Agency (EEA) figures showed last week 147
microgrammes of particulate matter (PM) per cubic metre of air
in Paris - compared with 114 in Brussels, 104 in Amsterdam, 81
in Berlin and 79.7 in London.
The last restricted driving scheme was introduced in 1997 in
to combat pollution from heavy diesel fumes. It lasted one day.
Minister Cuvillier said a decision would be taken later on
Monday on whether to extend the driver curbs for a second day.
Early reports suggested police were applying the curbs with
a degree of flexibility, with exemptions allowed for many
categories of vehicles including taxi cabs and hybrid cars.
"It's not our goal to jam up economic activity," Thierry
Pujol, a police officer stationed at a checkpoint in southern
Paris, told BFM TV. He said his team had stopped about 150
vehicles early in the day, waving many delivery vans through and
fining about 30 of the drivers stopped.
Drivers who defy the curbs are fined 22 euros ($31) on the
spot. The anti-smog action is being implemented days before
voters elected city hall mayors across the country in a
two-round ballot on March 23 and 30. Polls show President
Francois Hollande's Socialists are favourites to retain control
of the French capital.
($1 = 0.7181 Euros)
(Reporting By Brian Love; editing by Mark John)