Car and stove restrictions launch to ease pollution in French cities

The measures are in addition to the growing number of general limits being imposed on vehicles

A photo of a car exhaust pumping out dark fumes
Driving restrictions are in place in Paris and Lyon due to rising air pollution from wood burning stoves, amid wider limits on the most polluting vehicles
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Lyon and Paris have announced air pollution restriction measures for vehicles due to an episode of ‘winter fine particles’, mainly caused by wood burning heating.

This comes against a backdrop of rising driving restrictions overall around the country.

Air quality network Atmo explained that emissions had increased from wood burning due to colder temperatures and that this has worsened due to low wind levels.

As a result, regions in France have introduced restrictions on the roads in a bid to drop emissions from vehicles.

These include:

  • The police prefecture in Paris has dropped the speed limit in Ile-de-France by 20km/h

  • Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) must avoid the city by using the region’s ring road

  • The use of individual wood burning stoves is banned today (Friday, February 10) as this is said to contribute the most to the emission of fine particles

Restrictions are also in place in the Lyon region.

These restrictions include:

  • The Rhône prefecture announced ‘differentiated’ traffic (only allowing some vehicles at some times) in low-emission zones in Lyon city centre to all vehicles classified as Crit’Air 4 or less

  • A drop of 20km/h on major departmental roads, and where the speed limit is 90km/h or higher

These measures are also being applied in the Leman basin area and the Arve valley (Haute-Savoie). Restrictions also apply in the departments of Aisne, Nord, Loir-et-Cher, Morbihan and Seine-Maritime.

Introduction of more low pollution zones

It comes as the French state continues to ask mayors of major urban centres to implement low-emission zones (zones à faibles émissions mobilité or zones à faibles émissions, ZFE).

ZFEs already exist in major towns and cities including Aix, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice, Paris, Reims, Rouen, Saint-Étienne, Strasbourg and Toulouse.

Read more: Map: See France’s low emission driving zones - and plans for new ones

Read more: What penalties are given for driving in Nice’s low emission zone?

The rules limit access to city centres for the more polluting vehicles, depending on Crit’Air level. Crit’Air stickers must be stuck to the windscreen to demonstrate how polluting the vehicle is and fines can be issued for non-compliance.

Read more: A guide to Crit’Air stickers in France

From December 31, 2024, all towns of more than 150,000 residents (more than 40 towns) will need to have a ZFE-m in place.

This will lead to around 500,000 vehicles – around a third to a quarter of vehicles in the country – being banned from driving in certain areas at certain times or generally.

Mayor decisions

The government has delegated changes to zones to mayors, meaning that their individual political leanings and views may have an impact on the severity of restrictions. For example, left-wing Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo introduced the first ZFE in Paris in 2015.

However, the mayor of Marseille, Michaël Delafosse, also left-wing, has only banned vehicles without a Crit’Air rating at all, for now.

Yet, some towns are choosing to increase restrictions as time goes on. For example, Toulouse has now banned vehicles with Crit’Air 4, 5, and unclassified; while Paris and Grenoble have banned Crit’Air 3 as well.

Exceptions and waivers

Some towns have, perhaps as a way to temper public response to the rules, offer exceptions for people who must use their vehicles for work or important journeys. For example, in Strasbourg, drivers can request a ‘Pass’ waiver to enter the zone freely 24 times per year.

In the winemaking and Champagne region of Reims, local producers and transporters of wine grapes can request an individual waiver during harvest season. However, some discrepancies exist: in Marseille, there is a ZFE for vehicles around the port but polluting cruise ships and cargo ships are still allowed,

More generally, climate legislation that came into force in 2021 established a calendar to gradually phase out the most polluting vehicles. From January 1 this year, diesel vehicles from before 2001, and petrol vehicles from before 1997, were banned.

Diesels before 2006 will be banned from January 1, 2024; as will petrol vehicles from before 2006.

Less well-off disproportionately affected

However, some have said that these rules are too severe and could threaten basic rights to movement.

There are also major social-economic and geographical disparities in terms of vehicle owners affected. For example, only 10% of west Paris households are affected, compared to 38% in the city’s east. Nationally, 20% of more well-off households will be affected, compared to 40% of the less well-off.

This is because less well-off people tend, of course, to have older cars and live less centrally.

A study by Fig Data found that 75% of workers in the Paris area, who live outside the périphérique, commute into the city by car. This means that the measures could disproportionately affect commuters who live further away from the centre.

Le Figaro wrote: “The restrictions are often in working hours. This is especially the case in Greater Paris, where the rules apply Monday-to-Friday from 08:00 to 20:00. Town centre residents can, therefore, drive into the countryside at the weekend, conscience clear.”

Another criticism is that these rules do not have a major impact on pollution but simply shift pollution from city centres to zones outside of them – often to areas where less well-off households are based.

Michel Quidort, vice-president of the Fédération nationale des associations d'usagers des transports (Fnaut), told Le Figaro: "The ZFEs favour users who have sufficient income to adapt to them.”

He has also called on the government to improve public transport instead, which, he said, “would be a much more effective remedy against pollution in the constrained space of large metropolises”.

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