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Paris is a laboratory for mobility. It was at the forefront of bike sharing. It has schemes for electric car sharing. And it also has new rules. As of today, motorists with cars built before 1997 will no longer be able to drive them in the city on weekdays during the day. The ban also includes motorcycles built before the year 2000. The mayor of Paris says it will help lower pollution levels. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on the reaction in the city.
MARC VERNHET: The first model of this car is 1938.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Marc Vernhet makes his living driving tourists around Paris in the classic French car known as the Deux Chevaux, or two horsepower. Peugeot Citroen no longer makes the model. But for collectors, it's a nostalgic symbol of the good, old days. Vernhet says tourists from all over the world want to ride in them.
VERNHET: Deux Chevaux is the original name of the car. And the nickname is Deux Doche. And tourists love that's because they feel like real Parisians in the narrow streets of Paris.
BEARDSLEY: Because he uses his car for tourism, Vernhet is exempt from the ban for now - so are all car owners whose vehicles are listed as official collector's items. Antique car collectors were not the only ones to lobby against the new law. Pierre Chasseray is executive director of an association called 40 Million Drivers. He says the car ban discriminates against the poor and working class.
PIERRE CHASSERAY: When you have an old car in France, it's because you don't have the money to buy a new one. So you can't say to this person that they can't drive their car. They bought their car, and they need their car. Public transport is a solution, but it's not the solution for everybody.
BEARDSLEY: Christophe Najdovsky says most low-income Parisians actually don't own cars and do take public transport. He's the deputy Paris mayor in charge of transport and public space. He says the limits on old cars are about everyone's right to breathe better air.
CHRISTOPHE NAJDOVSKY: (Through interpreter) We know that the major source of pollution in Paris is traffic. Sixty-six percent of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulates come from road traffic. And we know it's old cars that spew out the most toxic fumes. That's why we're progressively going to get rid of them.
BEARDSLEY: And the deputy mayor says the ban will affect only about 1,000 out of the 600,000 cars that drive the city streets every day. The idea to restrict the most polluting cars gained traction last March, when pollution levels in Paris briefly topped those of Beijing. That was partly due to an atmospheric phenomenon sometimes observed in the spring, known as inversion. Romain Lacombe explains. He's the CEO of Plume Labs, a startup that tracks pollution levels in 400 cities. Lacombe says inversion occurs when a lid of hot air on top of cold air traps the pollution on the ground.
ROMAIN LACOMBE: What happened more than a year ago now in Paris was a combination of an inversion layer and the usual pollution levels in the city, so that was quite a crisis.
BEARDSLEY: The city responded by banning even-numbered cars one day and odd-numbered the next until pollution levels came down. For those caught flouting the new law, fines can go as high as $550. The new rules are some of the toughest restrictions on drivers in any European city. It could get tougher. The mayor of Paris has made no secret of her wish to ban all diesel cars from the city. They currently make up more than half the cars in France. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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