Paris Declares War on Out-Of-Town SUVs and Large Cars
I am honestly unsure how to feel about this news story. If you are from out of town, parking a “heavy” vehicle such as an SUV in central Paris will now cost you 18 euros per hour. But “heavy” even includes the BMW 5 series. This decision is the result of a city-wide vote, which had an incredibly low turnout. But it is also part of the mayor’s years-long push to make Paris appear more green.
Only 5.7% of eligible Parisians partook in the vote. Of those who voted, just 54% came out in favor of the proposition. (So 0.002% of Parisians were the tiebreakers). The wording was: “For or against the creation of a specific rate for the parking of heavy, bulky, polluting individual cars?” When Parisians voted yes, city hall revealed that the special rate was three times normal parking fees in the city center.
To me, the most obvious benefit is pedestrian safety. In fact, I’m shocked that safety didn’t make it into the proposition’s wording.
For a decade, Mayor Anne Hidalgo (a socialist who has been in office 2014-present) has pushed Paris to become a haven for bicyclists and pedestrians. Now, two-thirds of Parisians don’t even own a car. Because the medieval roads of Paris have some of the worst traffic in the world, this makes perfect sense. But as SUVs get larger and heavier, ambling Parisians are vulnerable to the rising pedestrian death numbers worldwide.
Hidalgo said, “The time has come to break with this tendency for cars that are always bigger, taller, wider…You have the power to take back ownership of our streets.”
And again, I completely agree that unnecessarily big, wide vehicles make little sense. In the U.S., at least, the average new vehicle pollutes more than it did a decade ago. Engines are more efficient, but manufacturers know they can charge more for upsized vehicles. EVs will naturally become narrower and shorter as range becomes an all-important number. But that’s another story. In the meantime, bulked-up trucks and SUVs lead to dangerous blindspots.
But here’s where I begin to disagree with the Paris decision. City hall also argued that these heavy vehicles, “threaten our health and the planet.” But the law only affects out-of-town vehicles that weigh in over 1.76 tons (if an ICE) and 2.20 tons if EVs. That’s right, Paris tripled parking fees for some EVs…to be more environmentally friendly.
What ICE vehicles weigh in at over 1.76 tons? This limit catches many crossovers. But it also includes large sedans such as the aforementioned BMW 5 series, Audi A6, and the Lexus LS 500. At 4,000 pounds, France’s flagship supercar even qualifies for the fees: the Bugatti Chiron. I’m sure all the budget-minded Bugatti owners planning to street-park their Chirons in Paris are devastated.
And why parking fees? Because they are the only ways City Hall can actually hit large vehicle owners. Vehicle registration, taxes, etc. are the responsibility of the French DMV equivalent. Which begs the question, is this even City Hall’s responsibility? And when it comes to global emissions, I’d say no. Some French farmer’s SUV will release just as much greenhouse gases–contribute just as much to global warming–whether or not it is driving through Paris or the countryside. If this is about preventing local smog, Hidalgo should be going after engines of a certain size. Or perhaps diesel compact cars.
If Parisians were actually worried about emissions, they would allow rental e-scooters in the city. But last year they banned that budget-friendly and eco-friendly transportation solution in a landslide vote.
I suspect the latest law would feel less icky to me if it wasn’t limited to “out of town” vehicles. But that detail smacks of classism: If you can afford a home in the Paris city center and a new Range Rover, these fees won’t affect you. Even when you are running errands and parking on the street. But if you want to enjoy a city that is truly an international treasure, and happen to drive a large sedan, it will.
If a crossover fits into a regular parking spot, it is not slowing traffic or “clogging up” the city more than a sedan. One 75-year-old Parisian voter said SUVs “do not disturb me, they do not take more space than other cars, the parking places are marked, and people should drive what they want to drive. It’s about freedom.”
Keeping SUVs “out of sight and out of mind” makes wealthy Parisians feel better about themselves, but solves few actual issues. Overall, Hidalgo’s law feels like it’s about optics. And the timing is suspicious.
Paris is hosting the olympics next summer, and Hidalgo is promising these will be the “greenest” games ever. But to her, that means no pesky electric scooters or electric SUVs ruining the look of her city. As it stands, this law may not go into effect until after the games. But I suspect we’ll see a scramble to implement it this summer.
Next, read about cities with the worst and best traffic, or learn more about Paris’ parking fees in the video below: