24 oct 23

LEZs “a real success” across Europe, French study says

Low-emission zones (LEZs), which restrict access to certain classes of greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles, can be “a real success” – but only with the proper communication and management. So says a French study, which examined LEZs in six European countries, to see what could work in France.

Eleven French cities already have an LEZ – known in France as a ZFE, short for Zone à faible émission. Their scope is set to increase dramatically by 2025, when each of France’s urban areas with more than 150,000 inhabitants must have one.

“Penalizing the poorest”

Ahead of that expansion, France wants to impose restrictions on certain types of light diesel vehicles in the LEZs of the five cities where emissions norms are most commonly exceeded, to wit: Paris, Lyon (pictured), Marseille, Rouen, and Strasbourg. In 2024, access would be forbidden to any diesel car below the Euro 4 norm, to be restricted a year later to Euro 5. 

With those measures on the horizon, ZFEs are increasingly controversial in France. Many see them as reinforcing social inequalities. “(ZFEs) are social time bombs, penalizing the poorest among the motorists”, says Fabien Roussel, national secretary of the French Communist Party.

That is why the French government asked Barbara Pompili, a former Minister for the Environment, to see which lessons could be learned from the introduction and management of LEZs in six other European countries: Germany, the UK, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Public awareness

Long story short: LEZs are “a real success”, according to Ms Pompili. “In those countries, LEZs have been successfully introduced, and have been well accepted by the public.”

Some findings: 

  • To be broadly accepted, an LEZ must be perceived as “useful”, which means the public awareness of the issues is “essential”. This is largely the case for the 200 LEZs currently in operation across Europe.
  • Access to the LEZs in Madrid and Amsterdam is granted only to cars with a minimum norm of Euro 4 (i.e. petrol and diesel vehicles that came onto the market from 2006 to 2010). This corresponds to the French norm Crit’Air 2 and 3. 
  • Access to the LEZs of London, Brussels, Stuttgart and Milan is grantd only to cars with at least Euro 5 or Euro 6. (This corresponds to Crit’Air 1 and 2).
  • In LEZs across Europe, the air quality has improved significantly. For example, the air in London contains 23% less nitrogen oxide than before the introduction of the LEZ. 

Unknown, unloved

If LEZs are still unloved in France, it’s because their benefits are still largely unknown. Her report has the following recommendations for the French government:

  • Increase incentives for the transition from ICE vehicles to PHEVs
  • Increase support to the inhabitants of the five urban areas where emission levels are currently being breached.
  • Offer aid to companies located near the border of a ZFE. 
  • Set up a single point of contact for information about incentives, support, and aid.
  • Implement automated camera control to regulate access to ZFEs.

If neither private individuals nor companies feel that ZFEs impose limits on their mobility, and if the rollout of ZFEs goes hand in hand with increased offerings of mobility alternatives – both public and private – then the expansion of France’s ZFEs has a good chance of being accepted by the French public, just like LEZs have been accepted in other European countries, the report concludes.

Image: Shutterstock 1490079530

Authored by: Frank Jacobs