Parisian Reluctance over Congestion Pricing

Translated, annotated and hyperlinked by Angus B. Grieve-Smith, February 13, 2007.

The Mobility Plan for Paris that will be debated [and adopted] by Parisian elected officials on February 12 and 13 hinges on the proposals to close (partially at least) the Georges Pompidou expressway, to install a lane reserved for buses, taxis and emergency vehicles on the Boulevard P?riph?rique [an eight-lane limited-access highway], and to limit automobile circulation in the center of Paris. However, there is no explicit mention of the implementation of ?congestion pricing.?

London, Oslo, Stockholm and Singapore have all used this technique to limit access to their downtowns. Milan is expected to do the same in March 2007. In Paris the subject provokes, at this point, strong opposition. The suggestion of the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, on November 13, to ?request input on? the implementation of congestion pricing in Paris has met with unanimous opposition, even from the UMP [his own center-right party].

Fran?oise de Panafieu, conservative candidate for the next mayoral elections in the capital, has concluded that ?a toll at the gates of Paris would not be possible.? Jean-Paul Huchon, Socialist president of the Ile de France [the greater Paris region], has declared himself to be ?firmly against? the idea, arguing that it amounts to ?a national avoidance of responsibility,? and ?an admission of impotence? in transit finance. Paris?s Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delano?, has concluded that this plan would antagonize elected officials from nearby municipalities ?from the right and the left.?

Eight days after the Prime Minister?s speech, the Regional Infrastructure District of the Ile de France (Dreif), in the context of its new management plan, published a study of traffic in the Ile de France, taking a position in support of a toll for entering Paris. For Francis Rol Tanguy, director of the Dreif, the idea ?should no longer be taboo.? The goal of the Dreif is to reduce automobile traffic and bring in funds to accelerate the rollout of mass transit across the region.
?Technically simple?
Former cabinet director Jean-Claude Gayssot put forth two scenarios: a London-style system where a toll is charged to access the city center, or else converting to toll roads all of the highways within the A86 ring road. Under that plan the charge would only apply to expressways. ?This system is technically simple to implement, thanks to the fiber optic network we have in place already,? says Mr. Rol Tanguy. The toll, which could be applied to all vehicles or restricted to heavy trucks, would bring in 300 million euros a year, according to the Dreif.

The Green deputy mayor in charge of transportation, Denis Baupin, who has always expressed hostility towards the idea of charging a toll to enter the center of Paris, doesn?t rule out the possibility of tolls on the expressways, especially for heavy vehicles. ?I am opposed to a London-style congestion charge, which I see as discriminatory,? Mr. Baupin said, although he was ?favorable? to the idea of toll roads around paris, ?which would bring in money for mass transit.?

In France there are already toll facilities in urban areas: the Prado-Car?nage tunnel under the Old Port of Marseilles, the east-west ring road around Lyons, the A14 expressway between La D?fense and Orgeval in the Paris suburbs, and even the future A86 tunnel, the biggest in Europe, between Rueil-Malmaison and Versailles, planned to open in October.

Another difficulty is legislation. It is legal for the state [France] to impose a highway toll, but not a downtown congestion pricing zone. During the debate in 2003 over transferring the management of the national highways from the state to the d?partments [local governments about the size of a county], the UMP deputy representing Lyons, Christian Philip, put forth a proposal supported by the majority of deputies in his party as well as the Socialist Party, that would have given local governments the right to impose tolls on intra-city travel in municipalities with more than 100,000 people. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who was Prime Minister at the time, withdrew Mr. Philip?s amendment in order to ?preserve purchasing power.? ?The time was not ripe,? argues Mr. Philip, ?for a French implementation of congestion pricing.?

Four years later, the thinking has evolved. Congestion pricing trials in other countries have reduced traffic and improved mass transit, and these results have bolstered the determination of officials who favor the idea. To avoid accusations of discrimination against lower-income motorists, some defenders of zone pricing have suggested implementing an ?intermodal? card, to be purchased by all residents whether they are transit riders or motorists, as an incentive to chose mass transit. The revenue, estimated at 150 million euros for a city like Lyons, would be used to make public transit more attractive.

?We support the speedy implementation of congestion pricing in Paris,? said Jean Sivardi?re, president of the National Federation of Transit Riders (Fnaut), which argues that ?motorists have an obligation to repay what they cost to the public.?

?We already have parking meters, and congestion pricing is just the next step in urban traffic management,? notes Yves Crozet, the director of the master?s program in Transportation and Commercial and Industrial Logistics at the University of Lyons II. ?It isn?t so much that pollution problems are forcing us to implement tolls within cities,? he points out, ?It is more that they are requiring us, on penalty of asphyxiation, to place restrictions on people?s movements.? The road network, he continues, is currently one of the last holdouts against the free market, and congestion pricing would apply the user-pays principle to it, just as it does to water or electricity.

Original : P?age urbain : les r?ticences parisiennes, Dominique Buffier, Le Monde, January 17, 2007. This translation was originally posted on February 13, 2007

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