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An effort to reduce congestion in the streets of Paris goes before voters on Sunday


The famous boulevards and winding side streets of Paris are famously clogged with traffic. The city's latest effort to reduce congestion goes before voters on Sunday. If the referendum passes, it will hugely increase parking fees for large vehicles, in particular SUVs. From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Posters around the city ask, do you want more or less SUV in Paris? The campaign is the latest idea from a mayor who's already carved out more than 500 miles of bike lanes across the city, clawing back space that used to belong to cars. Mayor Anne Hidalgo has also reduced the speed limit to 18 miles an hour. It's no secret that she's no favorite of Paris drivers. Uber driver Julien Marret picks me up in his SUV. He says the referendum is just smoke and mirrors.

JULIEN MARRET: (Through interpreter) Because there are already pollution standards for all vehicles driving in Paris and most SUVs here are hybrid, sometimes you need a bigger car for work. Paris can't ban everything.

BEARDSLEY: The referendum being put before Parisian voters this Sunday is not about banning SUVs but discouraging them by raising street parking rates to as high as $40 an hour. Still, city leaders hope the outcome will send a signal to carmakers. David Belliard is in charge of transportation and the transformation of public spaces in Paris. In a recent video, he called the growth of SUV sales in Paris a silent scandal.


DAVID BELLIARD: (Through interpreter) Why are there so many? Because people in organization put tons of money into lobbies to influence decisions. We know these SUVs are big money for carmakers. This vote goes against those lobbies.

BEARDSLEY: Belliard was also in charge of last year's referendum to ban rental electric scooters, which then disappeared off Paris streets overnight. Polls show 60% of Parisians support hiking parking fees for SUVs. Theo Ponchel is a pollster with OpinionWay.

THEO PONCHEL: SUVs are quite negatively seen but not as much as you could think.

BEARDSLEY: He says almost 60% of Parisians have a negative opinion of SUVs. Still, most Parisians NPR spoke to did not support Sunday's vote, even tiny car owners like Pierre Adelfang, who was stepping out of his Fiat.

PIERRE ADELFANG: It's difficult to blame the person to have an SUV because some person use their car for professional activity. And the price of the transport in Paris are more expensive.

BEARDSLEY: Adelfang says most people just have one car. He suspects the mayor is trying to deflect attention from the fact that the city is snarled in traffic and mired in construction projects that have gone over budget. Twenty-four-year-old Julien Tellier is filling up a Range Rover at the gas station, but it's not his. He's rented it for work. He says you don't need a car in Paris because the public transport is great. He's against the consultation, too.

JULIEN TELLIER: (Through interpreter) It's idiotic because people who have SUVs have the money to pay for higher parking. It's always some kind of policy to penalize people and never something positive to wake up our consciences.

BEARDSLEY: Rene Ducore is squeezing his Land Rover into a tight spot on the street. The 45-year-old restaurateur says it is hard to find a space, but he can also park his electric SUV at a charging station. He didn't know about the referendum.

RENE DUCORE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "We had gas cars," he says, "and they told us to switch to electric. Now they found something else." Ducore says it's complicated, but he's planning to move out of Paris, anyway. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.