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Low turnout in Paris SUV vote

Paris has voted in favour of tripling parking charges for SUVs in Sunday’s referendum (4 February) which saw a turnout of just 5.7%.

Set to come into force at the start of September, the new parking tariffs for SUVs will increase to €18 an hour in Paris’ city centre, and €12 for the rest of the city. These rates will apply to all diesel, petrol and hybrid cars heavier than 1.6 tonnes, and for all electric cars above two tonnes.

The result follows backlash against the growing number of SUVs, and the recent finding from the Global Fuel Economy Initiative which found that SUVs prevented a 30% fall in carbon emissions between 2010 and 2022.

Director of the French clean air group Respire, Tony Renucci, said: “The result of the vote is a victory for Parisians’ quality of life. By making SUVs pay for the cost and nuisance they cause, Paris is sending a signal that these monsters on wheels are not welcome on our streets. It’s also excellent news for air quality, road safety and rebalancing public space in cities.”

However, despite the clear win for green advocates, the referendum saw just 78,000 out of 1.3 million eligible voters turn out to vote, raising scepticism of its mandate. 

Royal Holloway, University of London’s Professor of Politics Nicholas Allen, explained to Zag Daily the importance of turnout in referendums and elections.

“Turnout is often treated as an indicator of the health or otherwise of a country’s democracy,” he said.

“It is common to see lower levels of turnout in so-called ‘second-order’ elections, like local elections, which are not concerned with choosing a national government. People generally understand that less is at stake.

“But the outcome of any local election or referendum in which only 1 in 18 voters bothered to cast a vote is going to struggle to be seen as legitimate. No one can plausibly claim popular support for tripling the costs of parking SUVs off the back of a 5.7% turnout.”

The motorists’ lobby group 40 Millions d’Automobilistes has argued that drivers should be free to choose whatever vehicle they want. 

“It was a hair’s breadth away from shame being added to ridicule,” the group’s General Delegate Pierre Chasseray said. “The Minister of Transport must intervene against this extremist project by the city of Paris.”

Last year, Paris held a similar vote on whether to ban rented e-scooters, which also garnered a low turnout of just 7.5% and meant Paris subsequently became the first European capital to do so. 

While the industry can celebrate a win this time around, it could very easily become a loss next time if Paris’ worryingly low turnout trend continues.

Nevertheless, key industry players are hoping other cities follow suit with this green policy. 

“We know many cities have been watching the whole process keenly, and will follow how this measure is rolled out. London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has already publicly said as much,” Director of the Clean Cities Campaign Barbara Stoll told Zag.

“Cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Oslo are all taking bold steps to prioritise human wellbeing and clean air above cars, and with this in mind the vote will surely send a strong message to other city leaders who are poised to act.”

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