Paris leads the way in electro-mobility

Communication Manager, National Association for the Development of Electro-mobility

©Jackie Naegelen/Reuters

Faced with heavy pollution and congested roads, Paris is turning to electric vehicles to restore air quality. Its incentive policies for all forms of transport should inspire cities all over the world to follow suit.

Though 2015 is set to be a landmark year for France’s fight against climate change, notably with Paris welcoming world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference, the French capital has not waited until now to take action. Local government has been pursuing change for many years, and nowhere more than in transport mobility. The transport sector is France’s leading source of CO2 emissions, generating 36% of the national total, and this includes a large share of fine particles and pollutants.

In the light of this pressing public health issue, alternative forms of transport urgently need to be found. Electric mobility is one of the preferred technological solutions because it combines the introduction of new practices with clear environmental benefits, and its introduction by the City of Paris has met with considerable success.

Paris is something of an electro-mobility pioneer. Electric vehicles have been entitled to free parking since 1993, and the provision was immediately followed by the creation of public charge points. Few people are aware of this last point, however, simply because most of them think that electric mobility started in Paris with the introduction of the Autolib’ car scheme in 2011.

There is no denying that Autolib’ was the catalyst for electro-mobility in France. As the world’s first electric car-sharing rental service, it brought electric vehicles into the mainstream with a fresh new image that they badly needed.

It worked. Users were thrilled with a convenient service and the advantages of electric cars: silent, instant torque, and zero pollution from exhaust while driving. The project’s success quickly reached further afield, and Autolib’ is now operational in 82 towns within the Greater Paris region, just four years after its initial launch. It now has over 93 000 subscribers and recorded four million rentals in 2014.

The service’s real advantage is allowing users to access a vehicle whenever they want, including times when public transport options are limited, while saving the cost of car ownership. From an environmental perspective, Autolib’s 3 000 cars have generated a total saving of 12 500 tonnes of CO2 since the scheme was launched. Even charging is exemplary: the cars are exclusively recharged using energy from renewable sources.

Paris has worked tirelessly to promote the use of electric vehicles ever since. Images of the Eiffel Tower obscured by a thick cloud of pollution have added a certain impetus to the adoption of an ambitious plan to improve air quality.

The city authority’s response has been an incentive-based policy towards electro-mobility, starting with building up the charge point network, which is a prerequisite for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

Indeed, while users in France are legally entitled to have a charge point installed in any car park in an apartment building, things are more complicated in practice. Many Parisians live in apartments with no garage, and the procedures involved might seem somewhat off-putting. The City of Paris is therefore offering financial support to encourage the installation of charge points in such homes.

Moreover, as of November 2015, some 120 new 22 kilowatt public charge points and a few fast-charge terminals will be added to the network of Autolib’ stations. Further additions will be made as necessary.

There is also a service for business users. In 2014 there was the launch of Utilib’, the utility version of Autolib’, created for professional users and consisting of a pool of 50% hybrid and 50% electric shared vehicles.

Business and trades people in Paris and the immediate suburbs are being encouraged to lead by example, with grants to encourage them to replace their conventionally powered vehicle with an electric vehicle. The wholesale food market in Rungis south of the city, which is the largest in the world for agricultural produce, has also decided to make the switch.

These developments are encouraging for the electric utility market, because the crucial question of whether the supply side or the demand side should take the first step has paralysed innovation and is holding back the transition away from the internal combustion engine. The City of Paris is aware of this, and has launched a grouped order for low-carbon solutions with around ten other European cities–something that should encourage automakers to release new models.

The current policy offers many incentives, but motorists will soon run out of other options. In September 2015, the City of Paris introduced a restricted zone to which only the greenest cars will eventually have access.

On paper, then, this looks like a success– but with a few provisos. For one thing, the police must fine offenders. Checks should be simplified in 2016 with the adoption of air quality certificates that the owners of authorised vehicles will have to display on their windscreen. Local councils in the suburbs will also have to adopt similar measures to prevent traffic pollution being displaced to these areas.

Electric mobility is not just about cars, however. Congestion on the roads, demands on public space–there are myriad reasons to opt for soft modes of transport and public transport.

Since 2011 the City of Paris has been offering grants to Parisians buying electric bicycles in a very popular move that has led to the approval of 10 000 applications (including the editor of the OECD Observer!). It also wants to control traffic by imposing a speed limit of 30 km/h, which would make electric bikes the fastest form of transport in the capital. So it makes sense that integrating this technology in the next generation of Vélib’ bikes should be the next idea on the table.

After lagging behind other modes for many years, public transport is catching up in leaps and bounds. The energy transition law sets a deadline of 2025 for transport operators to convert their vehicle fleets to alternative power trains. RATP, the Paris transport operator, will open its first line of all-electric buses in early 2016. At the same time, a succession of different models will be trialled on the streets of the capital, because a lot of hard work remains to be done before the current high-capacity stock can be replaced at equivalent cost. From batteries to induction to trickle charging, every technology must be tested before the right one can be identified.

As Paris faces these choices that will be decisive for the future of our cities, it is emerging as the laboratory for the whole of France. By cleverly balancing incentive and constraint, the City of Paris is changing the attitudes of businesses and consumers to mobility, encouraging them to choose economical solutions that are better for the environment.


Autolib Métropole (2015), “Autolib’ Métropole 2014 activity report”,  

Avere-France (2015), “Law on the energy transition: What will change for electric mobility?”,

City of Paris (2015), “Measures to combat air pollution in Paris”,

©OECD Observer No 304, November 2015      

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016