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Low Emission Zones in French Cities

Friday 13 August 2021

The French government has decided to extend low emission zones to all cities and large towns in France.

The new plans will introduce low emissions zones (zones à faibles émissions, ZFE) in all towns with over 150,000 inhabitants in France by 2030 with the aim of reducing pollution levels.

The original plan put forward by MPs aimed to implement the measure by 2025, but the Senat Upper Chamber extended the deadline to reduce “tensions” and “confusion” among motorists.

In the zones, the most polluting vehicles will either have limited access or be banned altogether in order to reduce levels of fine particles and nitrogen oxide (both emitted by high-polluting vehicles) in the air.

Vehicles will be allowed entry into the zones based on their 'Crit’Air' rating – a national classification system which ranks cars according to the levels of atmospheric pollutant emissions they release.

There are 6 different Crit’Air ratings, with level 5 being given to the highest polluters (including all vehicles made before 1997), through to level 1 for the lowest polluting cars.

There is also special green rating for electric and hybrid cars that do not contribute to emissions.

The Senat said extending the deadline for introducing the zones to 2030 would give motorists more time to change their existing vehicles (which people in France do on average every seven or eight years) to less polluting models.

Three ZEFs already exist in France in Paris and Greater Paris, Greater Lyon and Grenoble-Alpes.

In order to enter these zones vehicles must have the correct Crit’Air rating displayed on a sticker on their windshield.

Vehicles entering a ZEF with the wrong rating or without displaying a Crit’Air sticker face fines of up to €450.

In Paris, the ZEF rules have been in place since June 1 banning entry to cars rated Crit’Air 4 and 5, from 8:00-20:00, Monday to Friday.

In Greater Lyon, heavy goods and light commercial vehicles rated Crit’Air 3 and over are not allowed to enter, and in Grenoble-Alpes, heavy goods and light commercial vehicles rated Crit’Air 4 and over are banned.

In the future, vehicles with a Crit’Air 2 rating will also be phased out in ZEFs, meaning an eventual total ban on diesel vehicles.

A further eight ZEFs have already been approved in France, bringing the total number of zones up to 11 by the end of 2021.

The additional 8 zones will be in:

  •  Aix-Marseille-Provence, 
  • Nice-Côte d’Azur, 
  • Toulon-¬Provence-Méditerranée, 
  • Toulouse, 
  • Montpellier-Méditerranée, 
  • Rouen, 
  • Normandy and 
  • Strasbourg.

The new plans will more than triple the number of ZEFs by 2030, in light of calls from the European courts to reduce pollution levels.

Introducing the zones could also have significant health implications. A study from health body Santé publique France in 2016 found that 48,000 people died each year in France from exposure to air pollution, with 34,000 of those deaths being avoidable.

And the World Health Organisation estimates that exposure to fine particles at current levels decreases the life expectancy of all people in Europe by an average of around 12 months.

The European Commission plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, with the aim of becoming climate neutral throughout Europe by 2050.

But motorists’ association 40 millions d’automobilistes has said the new restrictions in France already go too far.

It estimates that 16.3million vehicles classed Crit’Air 3, 4 and 5 will no longer be able to be used in the 35 future ZFEs, and a further 9.6million diesel vehicles classed Crit’Air 2 will be excluded from town centres in due course.

Together these account for over 25million vehicles in France – over 68% of all vehicles on the road.

The association added: “No studies have ever shown the scientific efficacity of the ZFEs on reducing pollutive emissions.”

Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili has defended existing plans to extend the ZEFs. She said: “If we are putting in place low emission zones, it is in order to save lives." She stated that the new rules in Paris alone could save 6,600 lives each year.

The government has also made provision for helping owners switch to less polluting vehicles.

Financial aid of up to €6,000 is available to people who want to replace an older vehicle with a low Crit’Air rating for a less polluting vehicle via the Prime à la conversion scheme (see below).

In Paris and Greater Paris vintage cars are still allowed inside the ZEF, as well as other vehicles given permission to enter for specific professional use.

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