Paris — Parisians have voted in favor of tripling the cost of parking an SUV in the French capital city. The proposal that was put to a public vote was the latest salvo in Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s controversial efforts to reduce the number of cars on Paris’ roads and make the metropolis more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.
If the results of the nonbinding public referendum are implemented, it will mean the cost of parking an SUV on a Paris street will roughly triple, to $19.50 per hour.
Paris City Hall held the referendum Sunday just over 54% voted in favor of the measure. Turnout was low, however, with just under 6% of registered voters heading to polling places.
The vote was only open to residents of Paris, but if the new parking fees are pushed through, they will apply only to SUVs driving into the city from the suburbs or farther afield. Residents of Paris who own an SUV will be exempt.
The increased fees would also apply to other heavy family vehicles weighing more than 1.6 metric tons, or about 1.8 U.S. tons, and even to hybrid and electric SUVs weighing more than 2 metric tons (2.2 U.S. tons) — despite the mayor’s push for more electric vehicles.
Hidalgo welcomed the result of the referendum as “a clear choice by Parisians,” saying the measure would be “good for our health and.”
City Hall said the referendum was prompted by concerns about security, equitable sharing of public space and pollution. As Paris prepares tothis summer, the mayor is determined to be seen as a torchbearer for greener cities and greener sports.
Some cyclists on Paris’ roads Monday said they were happy with the idea of higher parking fees as a deterrent against large SUVs.
“Parisian roads are narrow, and some of the bicycle lanes send us against the traffic on one-way streets,” complained Hélène, who declined to give her full name. “SUVs take up all the road, making it hard to pass.”
“As a cyclist and as a pedestrian, I’m all for the increased fees,” said Thalia. Aware that it won’t apply to Parisian SUV owners, she added: “I’m not sure how much difference this is going to make. At any rate, I am 100% for reducing automobile presence in Paris in general!”
Jacob, who cycles to and from work every day in Paris, was more sanguine: “If SUVs take up more space, then yes, they should pay more,” he said. “But I’m not particularly bothered by them on the road. The really enormous, vulgar ones are few and far between from what I see. As for large EVs, again it’s a question of if they are taking up more parking space.
“I think it’s kind of a stupid measure to try to discourage people from driving SUVs into the city. The tax should be on emissions, not vehicle size,” he said.
City Hall says SUVs are also more dangerous because they’re wider and heavier. It claims accidents involving pedestrians and an SUV are twice as likely to be fatal as a crash involving a standard car.
Opponents of the fee hike, including automobile associations, have dismissed the referendum as a public relations exercise. Yves Carra, of Mobilite Club France, dismissed the notion that SUVs are even a clearly defined vehicle type, telling the French news agency AFP that it was “a marketing term” that “means nothing,” and noting that smaller SUV models will be exempt while heavier family cars will not.
Conservatives on the council called it “manipulation by the city government.”
Even France’s national Environment Minister Christophe Bechu was quoted by broadcaster RTL as saying the SUV surcharge amounted to “a kind of punitive environmentalism.”
If passed, it could prove highly lucrative: Paris City Hall said the new fees could bring in an extra $37.5 million per year.
The number of cars in Paris has dropped over the past 10 years as the city pursues an aggressive policy of reducing traffic lanes and free parking spaces, widening sidewalks and increasing bicycle lanes.
However, the size of cars driven by Parisians has also grown in that time. SUVs are relatively recent apparitions on the city’s streets. Particularly in central areas, Paris is still a web of very old, very narrow winding streets that were built for horses and carts, not six-and-a-half-foot wide steel-sided vehicles.
SUVs have become more popular over the past few years in the wealthier residential areas of Paris. They are especially common in the 16th arrondissement, one of the richest parts of the French capital, which has wide boulevards and large apartments. More people in the 16th own a private vehicle than anywhere else in Paris.
At the polling places Sunday, there were long lines in the district, even though turnout across the city was low. Voters there roundly rejected the proposal, with 82% voting against it.
Parisian Mike Xu lives in the 16th and told CBS News he’d been driving an SUV for five years and had no plans to change his habit. He said he likes the change from a sedan.
“You can see a bit better when you’re in an SUV,” he said. “Nearly all my friends have SUVs, big ones, or small ones.”
He admitted, however, that there are disadvantages: “The streets are narrow and it’s hard to find a parking spot.”