Parisians vote for higher SUV parking fees in backlash against large cars

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Parisians have voted for a steep rise in parking fees for owners of SUVs, in a sign of a growing backlash against large cars that is gaining traction around Europe. 

The local referendum was pitched by environmental campaigners and Paris city hall as a test of the tolerance in urban centres for vehicles that are considered by critics to be obstructive and more polluting — but that are also becoming more popular, in France and elsewhere. 

In the French capital, which has restricted traffic arteries in recent years and is considered a trendsetter on local mobility, residents voted by 54.5 per cent to 45.5 per cent on Sunday in favour of raising SUV parking charges. 

Charges will triple in some parts of the city to €18 an hour and car owners will only be exempted if they have a permit for their immediate vicinity. Even electric SUVs will be hit by the higher fees if they weigh more than 2 tonnes. 

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“Parisians want to limit the place these cars have on our streets for security reasons and because they’re polluting,” mayor Anne Hidalgo said, adding she was “very proud of this outcome”.

Anne Hidalgo arrives at a polling station
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo arrives at a polling station. She welcomed the outcome of the ballot © AFP via Getty Images

Just under 6 per cent of Paris’ 1.4mn registered voters turned out for the referendum, the second of this type after a vote banning e-scooter operators last year. Paris has also brought in low-emission zones, is set to crack down more broadly on older diesel cars with a ban from 2025, and has become much more bicycle-friendly, with new lanes laid across the city since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The SUV referendum proved divisive all the same, as more people are opting for the bulky vehicles that feature elevated seats and are favoured by some families for their spaciousness. 

“We’re talking about the cars used by Mr and Mrs Everybody here,” Xavier Horent, head of dealership lobby group Mobilians, told BFM TV before the results were announced on Sunday. “We mustn’t be surprised to see people reject environmentalist causes after this.”

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Even clean air and green transport campaigners outside France welcomed the outcome of the vote, however, with several hitting out at the “monsters on wheels”. 

Placards advertising the referendum: Lyon, France’s third-biggest city, has already brought in similar measures
Placards advertising the referendum: Lyon, France’s third-biggest city, has already brought in similar measures © MOHAMMED BADRA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“Cities across Europe will hopefully be inspired to follow the example of the French capital,” said Jens Müller, deputy director of the Clean Cities Campaign at Transport & Environment, a lobby group.

Lyon, France’s third-biggest city, has already brought in similar measures and some London boroughs base their parking on cars’ tax bands, requiring bigger or more polluting models to pay more. 

Some campaigners said Paris could do more to send a message about SUVs, which emit more than smaller cars and pose a higher risk in crashes to pedestrians and cyclists. 

“What Paris needs next is a tobacco-style ban on advertising the largest and most polluting cars to passengers on its public transport network,” said Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible.

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Demand for SUVs remains strong, however. In 28 European countries, including the UK, last year more than half of sales were SUVs, compared with one in five in 2014, according to data group Jato Dynamics.