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Paris votes in SUV parking fee referendum

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Parisians on Sunday were voting “non” or “oui” on whether to triple the parking charges for SUVs in the city center — a vote that is being closely watched by the auto industry and city officials across Europe.

If the referendum passes, SUV drivers could face parking fees of more than $19.40 per hour. A few hours of shopping in the fashion capital of the world would cost over $100 just in parking fees.

The vote is the latest effort by Parisian officials to slash traffic in the French capital. Paris was one of the first big European cities to adopt bike rental programs, and last year it became the first city in Europe to ban rented electronic scooters. Two decades ago, it was rare to see cyclists in central Paris. Today, thanks to the introduction of new cycling lanes, it’s not unusual to see tourists and locals alike exploring the city by bike.

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Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said she was targeting SUVs for reasons of road safety, air pollution and climate change. In a video posted on her Facebook page (she no longer uses X, formerly Twitter, which she calls a “gigantic global sewer”), Hidalgo cited a report by the World Wild Fund for Nature that said SUVs were 20 percent more polluting than average cars. She also said a pedestrian was twice as likely to be killed in a collision with an SUV than with a standard vehicle.

Driver advocacy groups attacked the plans. Pierre Chasseray, a spokesperson for the campaign group “40 million motorists,” said “penalizing the SUV based on weight criteria means penalizing families.”

“The French SUV is not an American Hummer,” he added.

Campaigners point to “car bloat” or “autobesity” — in recent years, SUVs have grown wider and heavier. A recent report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based group, found that SUVs in Europe were expanding by one centimeter (0.4 inches) every two years. The group found that some new cars in Europe are wider than some on-street parking spaces.

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said he would monitor the effectiveness of the Paris plans, although he does not have the power to implement parking levies on SUVs.

Europeans have a very mixed relationship with SUVs. While city officials are trying to push the large, heavy vehicles out of city centers, consumers love them. Over half of the vehicles sold last year in Europe were SUVs.

Just over 1 million Parisians were eligible to vote Sunday — and polls suggested that the referendum to raise parking fees would pass. The eligible voters are those who live in the inner city and are less likely to drive SUVs than their suburban neighbors.

The proposal would see non-Parisians’ SUVs or other large vehicles weighing over 1.6 tonnes (1.76 tons), or two tonnes (2.20 tons) for electric vehicles, charged 18 euros or $19.40 per hour to park in the city center. Those who live or work in the city who have parking permits in their area would be exempt.

Philipp Rode, executive director of LSE Cities, a program at the London School of Economics, said the referendum was “symbolically important.”

“Paris is a very important city that has been innovating on a lot of things,” he said. “Ultimately, this could be an education for people. If you want to drive these vehicles somewhere in Arizona, that’s your choice. But in inner cities, they are problematic.”

“The car industry is watching this space,” he added. “European cities have a market-shaping role.”

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