Dan Lert: The City of Paris aims to phase out diesel by 2024, and thermal cars by 2030

"Our long-term vision is not to eliminate cars from the city, but rather to organise the transition to low-carbon mobility," Dan Lert told EURACTIV. [Aimur Kytt / Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report ‘Road dust’: the lesser-known air pollutant.

The objectives set by the Climate Air Energy Plan for Paris seek to meet the European and WHO standards on air pollution. In the French capital city, “this implies the phasing out of diesel vehicles in 2024 and the phasing out of gasoline-powered vehicles in 2030,” Dan Lert said.

Dan Lert is Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of the ecological transition, the climate plan, water, and energy. He spoke to Frédéric Simon for EURACTIV.com.

Read the full interview in French here.

Paris regularly exceeds the maximum levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution set at the European level – recently, this led to a Parisian claiming €21 million in compensation from the French state. How does the city intend to comply with European air quality standards?

It is true that the French state has been condemned in 2021 to a historical penalty for its inaction on air pollution issues in several areas including the Ile-de-France and the territory of Paris.

What must be mentioned regarding this situation, which is worrying, is that there are still nearly 20,000 Parisians who are being exposed to nitrogen dioxide concentrations that are higher than the WHO’s recommendations.

But over the longer term, the air quality situation is improving in the Île-de-France region. And in fact, European standards are already respected for fine particles. And nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations are steadily decreasing with a 35% drop in levels near traffic between 2009 and 2019.

So in ten years, there has been a very significant decrease. And for the first time, as we saw in 2019, there are several major roads in Paris such as the Champs-Élysées that now respect the regulatory limit values. And over 2021, nitrogen dioxide levels have continued to decrease.

So the situation is still worrying, there are still many Parisians who are overexposed to nitrogen dioxide, but the situation is getting better.

What are the areas of priority of the French State for action to halt pollution?

As road traffic is the main source of emissions, Paris has been pursuing a policy of reducing the number of cars in the city for 20 years. And our objective, like other cities in Europe, is to reduce emissions at the source, and therefore to reduce traffic. And we have seen a reduction in traffic of about 5% per year in the recent years, which is having a significant impact on pollution at the source.

And then, we have the renewal of the car fleet, which is also one of the major objectives that we are pursuing through the implementation of the low emission zone (LEZ), with the Greater Paris metropolis which is now responsible for it. We are lobbying for the tightening of “Euro” car emission standards, which are the responsibility of the European Commission and the European Parliament, alongside other major European cities through associations like Eurocities.

We have set quite specific objectives in our Climate Air Energy Plan at the Parisian level in terms of improving air quality and the health of Parisians: compliance with European maximum levels by 2024 and compliance with WHO recommendations by 2030. This means that diesel vehicles will be phased out by 2024 and gasoline-powered vehicles by 2030.

So these are very ambitious objectives, but we are maintaining them in all our structural plans.

Is the phase-out of diesel and thermal cars a measure that will be applied throughout Paris or only in the most central arrondissements?

It is a general objective for Paris intra-muros. The central question of the timetable is ultimately the responsibility of Greater Paris.

The next steps to be taken (CritR 3 and 2 bans) will be decisive. This is the path that we have decided to follow and that we are sticking to at this stage, even though we are aware of the difficulties involved, and we must not hide from this.

But we want to be very proactive on this issue because the city’s actions over the last 15-20 years have considerably improved the air quality and we want to continue this very proactive approach with these policies.

The phase-out of diesel in 2024 will of course cover transit traffic. But how many Parisian motorists are concerned?

We are on a scale of 226,758 diesel vehicles, which corresponds to 38% of the private vehicles in Paris. What you need to know is that only 35% of Parisians have a private car, which is still largely a minority in the city.

Is it a question of eliminating cars in the long term – or at least of reducing the number of cars?

Our long-term vision is not to eliminate cars from the city, but rather to organise the transition to low-carbon mobility. This is what we are putting forward with my colleague David Belliard, deputy mayor in charge of mobility, transport, and travel.

So our goal is to reduce the role of cars in the city and to promote all forms of active mobility. And we are thus talking about policies related to bicycles, car-sharing, etc., which allow us to be on the right path in terms of reducing pollution.

Again, the issue is the reduction of the role of cars in the city. And the figures prove us right: it has considerably improved the air quality in Paris and the Parisian agglomeration.

To continue on the subject of traffic restrictions – these measures are bound to cause discontent. What solutions do you offer for Parisians who still prefer to use their cars, especially those with fewer financial resources?

There is a whole policy of alternatives to the car for Parisians.

Already, as part of the implementation of the LEZ, we are discussing at the metropolitan and national levels to provide social support for low-income households to make the transition to cleaner vehicles.

And at each stage of the implementation of the LEZ, the most modest households will be supported in their transition to cleaner vehicles when they are forced to use the car.

More broadly, the mobility revolution also means making Paris a fully bike-friendly city and promoting soft and active mobility with public transport. Once again, only 32-35% of Parisians have their own car, so we must support everyone towards clean mobility.

What form will this support take? Will people be able to go directly to someone and ask for financial aid?  

There is already financial aid for individuals and professionals, in addition to the aid from the State and the Metropolis. The City of Paris grants financial aid of 400 euros for the purchase of a new bicycle with or without electric assistance, and 600 euros for a cargo bike. For professionals, it can go up to €9,000 for the purchase of an electric, hydrogen, or NGV truck weighing over 3.5 tons.

In any case, what is certain is that we are asking the State to go much further in supporting low-income households in Île-de-France, in the Metropolitan area, and in Paris itself, to enable this transition to less polluting vehicles and to promote soft and active mobility.

In concrete terms, how will it work? Will there be a desk that people can go to?

These decisions are made at the metropolitan level and are linked to the steps involved in setting up the LEZ. So, it is under the responsibility of the Metropolis, with aid that can come from the Metropolis, the City of Paris, and the Region to support this transition.

For the time being, the desk is located at the level of the State and the Greater Paris Metropolis, but in the long term, it should be extended to the whole of Paris and the Ile-de-France region. This is still a work in progress and should be completed quickly.

In October, the City of Paris announced its intention to become a 100% bike-friendly city by 2026. How do you plan to achieve this? And what will be the impact on car traffic?

With my colleague David Belliard, who is in charge of these issues, the goal is to make Paris a 100% bike-friendly city by 2026. The bicycle plan represents a budget of 250 million euros for the city by 2026. Our objective is quite simple, it is to encourage the use of bicycles in Paris on all roads.

This means that we will continue to build new cycling paths. We have already reached 1,000km of cycling paths, so it’s a very important effort. And we want to add 180km of new safe paths. It also means providing more parking spots for bikes – our goal is 130,000 new spots in Paris.

Last summer, we also lowered the speed limit to 30km/h throughout Paris, except for a few major roads, a measure that will encourage people to cycle.

And then, we support the ecosystem around cycling: financial aid to buy an electric bike, for example, support for associations that promote cycling, and also teaching young Parisians how to drive and learn to ride a bike.

In figures, the use of bicycles will increase by 47% between 2019 and 2021 and by 22% between 2020 and 2021. So there really is a boom in cycling. And on certain major roads in Paris, there is up to a 60% increase in the number of bicycles on these new secure paths. So we will pursue our efforts in this direction to have a better sharing of public space for the benefit of active modes of mobility and as an alternative to the private car.

This also means less space for drivers…  

Yes, it’s about a better sharing of public space in Paris, which at the moment is largely unbalanced in favour of the car, whereas the vast majority of travellers use public transportation, walk, or cycle.

So we are rebalancing public space to reduce the presence of cars in the city and encourage these active modes of travel.

What solutions are you proposing for recharging electric cars? Is the network prepared to meet the increase in demand?

We have a fairly ambitious strategy from this point of view since we want to be a pioneer in the transition to less polluting vehicles. We have a fleet of Belib‘ charging stations, which is the Parisian charging station network for electric vehicles. It was first deployed in March 2021, and our goal is to have 433 Belib’ stations in Paris to ensure that vehicles can be charged throughout the city.

So, it’s both a matter of teaching and of communicating with Parisians to encourage them to abandon their personal thermal vehicles and to promote the development of electric mobility.

First of all, there is this important initiative on the development of fast-charging stations in private or concessioned parking lots, and then the incentive to develop home charging stations outside Paris. We are also going to help private condominiums that wish to install charging stations in their parking lots. And then we have a progressive tariff offer that is being developed for the charging of electric and hydrogen vehicles for professionals.

So it’s a whole range of measures that allow us to support the growing use of cleaner forms of mobility, such as electric and hydrogen, with an overall goal of 8,400 charging stations by 2024. And all this is part of Paris’ ambition to become a pioneer in the transition to less polluting vehicles.

How many charging stations are available today?

We need to sum up what exists and what is already in use in the public space as well as what exists in private spaces, conceded parking lots, etc. This corresponds to about 2,059 available electric charging stations, compared to 1,580 in 2018. Our goal is to reach a total of 8,400 charging stations by 2024.

I imagine that the goal is also to put an end to electric wires coming out of windows to charge cars on the sidewalk?

It’s quite rare to see this kind of situation in Paris because the buildings are mainly collective – even if some people live on the first floor who may be concerned.

That being said, we must facilitate the deployment of these charging stations on a massive scale if we want a transition to electric vehicles.

At the same time, we have set the objective of having 100% renewable energy by 2050 for all these charging stations. This is an important goal – to have 100% green electricity for charging cars.

Renewable electricity, but not nuclear, so…

Yes, no nuclear energy. That’s a goal for 2050 and we hope to remain on track.

And then there is also the issue of energy sobriety, which we are very committed to. This involves encouraging the use of more energy-efficient technologies, which also involves thermal building renovations.

And all these measures allow us to be a pioneer city on these issues of transition towards less polluting lifestyles and vehicles.

The city has announced its intention to set up a “quiet zone” with limited traffic in the center of the capital by 2024. Where do the preparations currently stand? And what results do you expect in terms of improvements in air quality?

As I mentioned earlier, the city is pursuing a policy of reducing car traffic, with a decrease of about 5% per year in recent years.

And the quiet zones, also known as a limited traffic zone – which is already used in several large cities in France and other European cities such as Madrid, Milan, and Rome – should help reduce the number of vehicles in the city center.

Its objective is quite simple: to reduce transit traffic in the city center. What we see in the center of Paris is that there is a lot of transit traffic. If we want to reduce this traffic in the city center, we must reduce transit traffic.

About 30% of the “transients” absolutely need their vehicle to travel – whether it is for charging, because of complicated trips, or because there are no public transport alternatives. And for the other 70%, the car is more of a convenience when driving through the urban center.

So our policy aims to keep the roadways free for pedestrians, bicycles, public transport, and certain categories of users – shopkeepers, craftsmen, and people with reduced mobility – so that there is less transit traffic in the city center.

Thus, it is also a way to accompany the change in mobility in Paris and reduce traffic in the centre of Paris. And we already learned from the experience of other French and European cities that it works well, so we are quite confident about the expected results of this quiet zone.

In terms of air quality, how will it help?

When you reduce car traffic, you improve air quality and reduce noise pollution, which is another important issue.

And since we have already reduced the speed limit to 30km/h in Paris, it is mainly the reduction of traffic in these zones that will help reduce noise pollution.

This measure has been in place since last summer, except for a few major roads which are still limited to 50km/h. This has an effect on noise pollution which has been drastically reduced. And then, for air quality issues, the most effective tool is the establishment of a LEZ at the metropolitan level.

According to the OECD, by 2035 tire and brake wear could become the number one source of pollution, ahead of exhaust gases. What solutions can be envisaged at the local level to eliminate this type of pollution?

We are keeping a close eye on these sources of pollution. We have the prospect of phasing out thermal vehicles in the medium term and we must carefully watch these sources of emissions that are expected to be generated outside of exhaust gases – in particular tire and brake wear.

Indeed, the braking phases contribute very strongly to non-exhaust particle emissions. Here again, the reduction of the speed limit from 50 to 30km/h on most roads in Paris is a very important lever for reducing the acceleration and braking phases that can occur at higher speeds. This encourages smoother driving, which reduces emissions linked to the abrasion of brakes, tires, and the road.

Experiments have also been conducted to eliminate traffic lights at certain intersections. The elimination of these traffic lights – in addition to the issue of reducing traffic and road safety – could reduce air pollution by limiting the braking phases. But also by limiting fuel consumption during the stop-and-go phases.

And finally, in 2018, we launched an experiment with Tallano’s Tamic system, which vacuums up particles directly from the brake. We are going to launch the second phase of this experiment in Paris, on a City of Paris vehicle which is a garbage truck. The experiment will last until the end of 2022 to see if this system allows us to reduce emissions linked to brake abrasion.

This is one of the subjects on which we expect a lot from the future EURO7 standard.

The EU is aiming for a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and a goal of climate neutrality by 2050. In terms of mobility in Paris, how do you fit into this context? What are your objectives and vision for 2030?

First of all, we want to pursue our proactive policy of clean mobility. The transport sector in Paris is the main source of air pollution and one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, which is the consequence of the dynamism of the Paris area.

So, we remain focused on reducing air pollution and the use of cars in the city, as well as the transition to cleaner modes of travel and vehicles.

On the scale of Greater Paris, we are experiencing some sort of revolution with the completion of the Grand Paris Express, a transport network that is gradually being rolled out with a public transport offer that allows suburb-to-suburb travel. This is the expanded RER network, also known as the Paris Express roller coaster, which will lead to a rather profound change in the way people travel in Paris.

And then we have started to think about the future of the ring road in Paris, which is an urban freeway in the heart of the city. With the Olympic Games coming up in 2024, there will be an “Olympic lane” on the ring road that will be dedicated to the mobility of athletes and their teams. This project was part of the city of Paris’ plan for the Olympics.

And the legacy of the Games will be to transform this Olympic lane into a lane dedicated to car sharing. So here again, we are undertaking a very profound change and a form of revolution in travel.

Is this a final decision?

This project was part of Paris’ application for hosting the 2024 Olympic Games. And we are currently holding talks with the State to ensure that the commitments that were made are fulfilled.

And it is my colleague David Belliard who is ensuring that the State respects this commitment, particularly in discussions at the metropolitan and Ile-de-France levels.

And will this lane be dedicated only to car sharing or will it also be used by cabs, buses, or electric cars?

The exact criteria have not yet been decided.

In any case, there will be a lane dedicated to car sharing, buses, and cabs with a speed limit of 50km/h. But there could also be other “clean” vehicles that would be allowed, the idea being to move towards more car sharing with dedicated lanes.

This project also echoes what I was saying earlier about support for the most modest households: we are not aiming to eliminate the car, obviously. And we are not aiming to eliminate the car altogether – there are a certain number of professionals and users who need their car on a daily basis or others who may have a more occasional need of it, such as during the weekend or to go shopping.

For all occasional needs, we have developed alternative solutions – the city has also developed its own network of shared vehicles. This network is called Mobilib’, and it is a car-sharing service with a loop, meaning that there are reserved parking spaces and that the vehicle must be returned to its original location after it has been used. It is a system that is managed by several operators and includes offers for both cars and commercial vehicles.

Along with this dedicated lane on the ring road, or the collective cab, this is part of the measures we are implementing to encourage car sharing.

And, of course, there is also a very dense public transport network in Paris, which provides a real alternative to the individual vehicle. And this network is already used quite a lot, so it gives us good prospects for the future in Paris.

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