cities are accelerating into low-emission zones

In Lyon, Nice or Montpellier, motorists must check, from Monday January 2, their vehicle’s gray card. If they have a diesel over 22 years old, classified Crit’air 5 (read the marks), they are subject to traffic restrictions. These three metropolises are part of the eleven agglomerations forced by a 2019 law to establish low emission zones (ZFE) to improve air quality.

The system consists of gradually removing the most polluting vehicles from a given perimeter. Rouen, Reims, or Toulouse now prohibit Crit’air 4 vignettes while Paris plans to exclude Crit’air 3 in 2024. We will be really hard because this category represents almost a quarter of the French car fleet. In the midst of the energy crisis and rapid inflation, this ZFE file has enough to wake up the ghost of the red caps of 2013 or the yellow vests of 2018.

The representatives of the national Rassemblement group understood this. They will present, on January 12, a bill aimed at abolishing the ZFEs “Go to target middle-class households and point the finger at motorists”. The initiative has no chance of success. While pollution causes about 48,000 premature deaths every year, France was condemned in 2022 by the European justice and again by the Council of State.

43 cities concerned by 2025

To start the change, the mobility law of 2019, followed by the climate law of 2021 that extends the ZFE to all agglomerations of more than 150,000 inhabitants by 2025 – that is, 43 metropolises in all – leave a large room for maneuver among local authorities. They will decide on the zoning, the schedule of restrictions (seasons of the year and time) and the vehicles involved (cars, utility vehicles, heavy goods vehicles).

For its part, the government held the first ministerial committee on EPZs at the end of October. The Minister for Ecological Transition, Christophe Béchu, has taken several steps proposed by a recent parliamentary report, including the creation of a monitoring committee and the appointment, in January, of an interlocutor for agglomerations.

Above all, the government is putting 150 million euros on the table to finance studies and infrastructure. On the social side, the bonus for buying an electric vehicle will range from €6,000 to €7,000 for low-income households and the retraining bonus will increase by €1,000 for ZFE residents.

A risk of relegation for rural and peri-urban people

In favor of ZFEs, a group of associations (including Secours Catholique, the League against Cancer and environmental organizations) will announce next week the launch of a think tank: “La Fabrique de la Mobilité” will include -together with experts, public actors or users to produce a “white paper” in June.

“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of time on this issue, commented Tony Renucci, of the Respire association. The 2025 deadline is near but we must not make the mistake of rushing because what is essential is the acceptability of the reform. » Some metropolises, such as Toulon, request that the implementation of the ZFE be postponed for one or two years.

President of the Intermunicipalities of France, a body that brings together groups of municipalities, Sébastien Martin is pleading for an increase in conversion aid but also the creation of a “one-stop shop”, because the state adds the bonuses of the communities, at the risk of otherwise losing the citizens.

The social complexity of the subject is aggravated by the high risk of relegation of the inhabitants of the territories outside the ZFE who will no longer be able to get there. Those living in peri-urban and rural areas are often the most modest and the people who need their car the most.

“Metropolises are well aware of this issue and dialogue is taking place with neighboring intermunicipalities”, says Sébastien Martin with optimism. Beyond public health, it’s really the entire territorial mobility policy that the introduction of the ZFE questions.


The Crit’air system

ZFEs are based on Crit’air classification of vehicles. For cars, Crit’air 4 and 5 concern the oldest diesel engines, all vehicles before 1997 are out of the classification. Crit’air 3 covers diesel engines over 12 years old and petrol engines over 17 years old. Crit’air 2 petrol engines over 12 years old and diesel engines under 12 years old. Crit’Air 1 any gas-powered car under 12 years old. Finally, Crit’air 0 concerns 100% electric vehicles.

The 43 agglomerations to which a ZFE belongs are not all obliged to ban Crit’air 3 by 2025. Only those with high levels of pollution are tied to a timetable: end of Crit’air 5 in January 2023, Crit’air 4 in January 2024 and Crit’air 3 in January 2025.

A recent order provides exceptions. Agglomerations that do not exceed, by 2025, a nitrogen dioxide threshold defined by the WHO will not be required to set up an EPZ.

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