Premature Retirement? Old-Car Owners Bristle at Proposed Ban

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PARIS

BY proposing to reduce air pollution by banning vehicles made before 1997, Mayor Bertrand Delanoë has angered vintage car owners and motorist groups and raised concerns among those who say they cannot afford new cars.

Mr. Delanoë's proposal is part of a wider push by local authorities to comply with European regulations and establish a low-emission zone around metropolitan Paris, including many suburbs, by 2014. The plan would extend the mayor's efforts to make the city more pedestrian-friendly by reducing the number of cars. These efforts include introducing the Vélib' bicycle rental program, establishing the Autolib' electric-car rental system and cutting vehicle traffic along the banks of the Seine.

Mr. Delanoë has been mayor since 2001, but will not run again in 2014. "In Paris, where polluting industries have nearly disappeared, cars are the main source of pollution today," he said in a statement presenting the antipollution plan to city councilors.

But the ban would include many of the most recognizably French cars, including the Citroën 2CV, known as the Deux Chevaux; the Citroën DS, celebrated for its clean, distinctive design; the Renault 4L, a practical Everyman's car of the 1960s and '70s; and many classic Peugeots.

The mayor's critics say he is doing everything he can, in his last years in office, to discourage driving. Among the disgruntled are collectors, who fear they won't be able to take their vintage cars for a spin.

"For me the 2CV is part of French heritage, of Parisian heritage," said Xavier Audran, 44, who lives in the 20th arrondissement and owns a Citroën CX, several 2CVs and a motorbike -- all of which would fall under the proposed ban. "I wouldn't be able to leave my home with my vehicles."

The ban would apply to private and commercial vehicles that would be older than 17 years in 2014 and therefore do not comply with existing European standards for the tailpipe emissions that cause smog.

A spokesman for the city estimated that 367,000 cars would be affected. Also targeted are heavy trucks older than 18 years and motorcycles older than 10.

The plan to set up low-emission zones here and in other volunteer cities was initiated by the previous center-right government. But the current French ecology minister, Delphine Batho, said in September that the plan had been rushed through to avoid European sanctions and needed to be overhauled.

A ministerial council in January is to flesh out the legislative details of the low-emission zone and the old-car ban, which the mayor does not have the power to enforce. But Mr. Delanoë, a prominent Socialist, has strong allies in the national government.

Other measures in the antipollution plan include applying new speed limits on the beltway that surrounds the city and in the city itself.

"This measure goes in the right direction, because these vehicles pollute much more than recent vehicles, especially for nitrogen oxide and diesel exhaust particles," said Karine Léger, assistant director at Airparif, an independent organization that monitors air quality in the Paris region. She said that car traffic had been cut by 25 percent over the last decade and that air quality had improved.

Julien Bargeton, deputy mayor in charge of transportation, said the city needed to move past the car. "In a dense city, the car can't be the favored transportation mode," he said. "There is room for cars in the city of tomorrow, but they can't take up all the room, as they do today, with public spaces that are widely reserved to car traffic, even though 60 percent of Parisians don't own a vehicle."

But opponents of the proposal argue that it will disproportionately affect poorer suburban households unable to replace the old cars they use to commute to Paris. They say the mayor's proposal to couple the ban with social support measures -- like a free six-month Autolib' subscription or a cash for clunkers program -- isn't realistic.

Jean-François Legaret, a center-right city councilor and the mayor of the city's first arrondissement, said a cash for clunkers program wouldn't fall under the mayor's control. "And the "Autolib' doesn't offer the same flexibility of use as a private vehicle," he added.

Pierre Chasseray, director general of 40 Million Motorists, an auto club with 320,000 members, agreed. "There has to be an economic incentive," he said, arguing that any cash for clunkers rebate should apply to used cars as well as new models.

Motorist lobbies say the city authorities are intentionally trying to make it impossible for cars to circulate freely and fluidly here. "The mayor is betting that one day people will be so disgusted with their car that they won't use it anymore," Mr. Chasseray said. "But he is completely wrong -- we will always need vehicles."

Other cities have age restrictions on cars, including Berlin, where for two years diesel vehicles have been outlawed if they do not meet emission regulations enacted in 2005. In Singapore since 1990, residents have to bid to buy a Certificate of Entitlement, which enables them to own a motor vehicle for 10 years, after which they are forced to scrap the car, export it or pay to extend the certificate.

autonews

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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