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”, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8MFxB5YvOOkSkhvT3pUdU1OTDA/view?pref=2&pli=1
Avere-France (2015), “Law on the energy transition: What will change for electric mobility?”, www.avere-france.org/Site/Article/?article_id=6241
City of Paris (2015), “Measures to combat air pollution in Paris”, www.paris.fr/actualites/lutte-contre-la-pollution-de-l-air-les-mesures-d-accompagnement-sont-lancees-2601
©OECD Observer No 304, November 2015