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COMMENT: Evolution, not revolution, for Paris mobility blueprint

Parisians have proven passionate protestors on many issues, including diesel tax. What will they make of the government's ambitious mobility targets? By Megan Lampinen

Paris has been paving the road towards cleaner, safer mobility for more than 350 years and is now more determined than ever to secure its position at the vanguard. Its innovative approach to facilitating movement for residents can be traced back to 1667, principally due to an unexpected side-effect of a new safety mandate. Keen to tackle rampant crime at night, Louis XIV ordered that lanterns were to be placed on most main thoroughfares, while residents were to put candles and lamps in their windows. Not only did this deter mischief makers, but it also established the first official street lighting policy in Europe.

There’s quite a jump between the well-lit streets of the 1660s and the self-driving shuttles plying Paris’ city centre today, but behind all such developments are forward-thinking leaders. Current Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo doesn’t have the political pull that Louis XIV enjoyed, but she has proven a powerful advocate for eco-friendly, safe transport.

Paris is also a city of protest and its residents have shown throughout history that they are not shy about demonstrating against unpopular policies

Air quality in Paris is pretty bad, and the city has failed to meet previous targets set by the World Health Organization. Children are impacted more than others, as pollution levels are particularly high around the city’s schools, which tend to be located at the heart of congestion and heavy traffic zones. The local authorities have latched on to older diesel vehicles as the low hanging fruit, with existing bans poised to expand well beyond the city itself and into the suburbs. By 2030, all diesel and gasoline engines may be prohibited.

Such a move could have a major impact on freight movement and urban economics, but Hidalgo is passionate about environmental improvement. As well as Mayor she also serves as President of the climate change organisation C40. Taking a multi-pronged approach, the city is simultaneously looking to tackle emissions through shared mobility, and private ownership is expected to play a minor role in Hidalgo’s future vision. She has been supporting shared, electric vehicle mobility schemes, such as Renault’s Moov’in, while pushing hard on public transport.

There’s quite a jump between the well-lit streets of the 1660s and today’s self-driving shuttles, but behind all such developments are forward-thinking leaders

Parisians are already relatively heavy users of public transport, with about 60% relying on it to get to work every day. That figure could go even higher. In March 2018, Hidalgo suggested it might be a good idea to make public transport free across the city. Nothing firm has emerged yet but she did commission a study into the proposal. Autonomous driving capability, as demonstrated by Navya’s self-driving shuttles running along the business district of Paris La Défense, promises further advances in this segment. Some of the transit authorities themselves are looking into greater mobility integration and creating a seamless link among public transport options, carpooling, ride-hailing and micromobility offerings.

However, Paris is also a city of protest, and its residents have shown throughout history that they are not shy about demonstrating against unpopular policies. The spirit of the French Revolution was revived last December as the ‘gilets jaunes’ took to the street to protest the hike in diesel taxes, which they see as a major impediment for lower income families dependent on their vehicles to get to work. Protestors were reportedly chanting ‘Macron to the Bastille’ and waving banners referencing the executions of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. If Hidalgo is to achieve her future vision through a peaceful evolution rather than a troubled revolution, the whole spectrum of residents and their varying needs and preferences will have to be considered. Automotive World‘s Special report: The future of mobility in Paris, explores some of the more notable developments currently taking place.

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