Paris on Monday imposed a partial driving ban and made public transport free in an attempt to cut noxious smog, after pollution levels briefly surpassed that of Shanghai last week.
Authorities announced that all cars with plates ending in even numbers must stay off the roads on Monday, after days of political wrangling over how to tackle the high amount of harmful particles shrouding Paris.
Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor, had wanted to impose the ban last week after lack of wind or rain and cold nights helped push up pollution levels.
According to Plume Labs, Paris for a few hours last week hit 127 in its air pollution index chart of 60 cities, with Shanghai in second place on 106 and London on 91.
However, the government of fellow Socialists refused, reportedly so as not to annoy suburban voters ahead of Sunday’s local elections.
Lorries are being asked to drive around the capital while a maximum speed limit of 20 kilometres per hour is in force in a bid to cut levels of dangerous micro-particles.
Motorists unauthorised to drive face a €22 (£16) fine and being told to leave their car where it is or see it impounded.
Commercial, electric or hybrid cars are all exempt, as are those carrying at least three people. Use of Autolibs, Paris’ low cost rental electric cars, is free for the first hour for subscribers.
The ban came after a strong prevalence of particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns, or PM10.
These are the most monitored as the smaller and lighter a particle is, the longer it stays in the atmosphere and can remain suspended for weeks. They can also lead to asthma, allergies and respiratory ailments.
The safe limit for PM10 is set at 80 microgrammes per cubic metre (mcg/m3).
Some 750 police officers were stationed on roads leading in to the capital to stop drivers flouting the ban. While many motorists with even number plates were still on the roads – often reportedly telling police they had “not watched the news” – traffic levels were definitely below normal.
Similar emergency measures were last implemented almost exactly a year ago – on March 17 – during a particularly bad spike in smog. The operation saw pollution drop but Ségolène Royal, the ecology minister said a more global response was necessary.
The partial ban will be lifted on Tuesday, as winds are due to pick up.
According to 2011 World Health Organisation figures, Ahwaz, in southwesternIran, far outstrips infamously polluted cities like New Delhi or Beijing, with 372 parts per million of PM10. Beijing, by comparison, was on 121 parts per million, Paris on 38 and London on 29.