France drops plan for urban tolls amid fuel price protests

Masked protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher fuel prices, take part in a demonstration on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government has dropped plans that would have eased the introduction of urban tolls amid nationwide protests against rising fuel costs, the transport minister said on Monday.

Last month, Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said a new law on mobility would allow cities to introduce congestion pricing in a bid to cut traffic jams and pollution.

But in the past two weeks, France has seen nationwide protests against rising fuel costs, with demonstrators clad in fluorescent jackets - dubbed “yellow vests” - blocking highways and setting up barricades, hoping to force the government to row back on new taxes on petrol and diesel.

The unrest came to a head in Paris on Saturday, when police clashed violently with thousands of demonstrators on the Champs-Elysees, with more than 100 protesters detained.

At a presentation of the draft mobility law following a cabinet meeting on Monday, Borne told reporters that it would not include urban tolls as had previously been proposed.

“The perception is that this measure would create new territorial divides, and hence it will not be part of the draft law,” she said.

She added that the goverment’s transport policy would focus on providing more alternatives for individual car ownership.

This will include improving railway connections to smaller cities, which have been left behind as France focuses on building high-speed TGV lines between its major cities, and on encouraging car sharing and cycling.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Luke Baker