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France 2021: radically more low emission zones

In the new year, various low emission zones will come into force in France, permanently banning older burners from city centres. This increases the risk of fines in the impenetrable system of permanent and temporary low emission zones.

From the beginning of next year, no less than seven cities and regions in this popular holiday destination will introduce permanently valid environmental zones in their inner cities. This follows the metropolises of Paris, Lyon and Grenoble-Alpes, where permanent zones already prohibit the entry of older vehicles. Earlier, a decision by the European Court of Justice condemned the country to a heavy fine for repeatedly failing to comply with EU air pollution limits. The cities and regions concerned by the new zones are Aix-Marseille-Provence, Nice-Côte d'Azur, Toulon-Provence-Méditerranée, Greater Toulouse, Montpellier-Méditerranée, the Eurometropolitan region of Strasbourg and Rouen-Normandie. From January onwards, it is unlikely that many of the new zones will come into force, as it is usually not yet clear which rules will apply. Discussions are also continuing as to which parts of towns and cities will be included in the low emission zones.
In the metropolitan region of Rouen-Normandie, the area between the boulevards and the Seine in the eastern part of the city, as well as an as yet undefined area south-west of the river, are likely to be included in the environmental zone. In September this year, the mayor proposed to ban diesel vehicles bearing the French sticker 5 from this area. It remains to be seen whether only the banning of such old diesel vehicles in a few kilometres of the city centre can actually help to reduce air pollution. The zone should come into force by 30 June 2021 at the latest. In Nice-Côte d'Azur, too, the discussed dimensions of the zone have so far been rather reserved. Only the Promenade des Anglais, which runs along the banks of the city, is to be included in the environmental zone, excluding older vans and lorries. In contrast, traffic restrictions in Toulon-Provence-Méditerranée, as well as in the greater Strasbourg area, will increase enormously. In Toulon-Provence-Méditerranée, 12 municipalities in the metropolitan region are affected. The exact boundaries of the zone and the rules have not yet been announced. In Strasbourg, the permanent environmental zone will cover all 33 communes of the Strasbourg metropolitan area. However, the main axes A4, A35, N83, N353 and D1083, which bypass and partly cross the conurbation, are not affected by the driving bans. The zone is to come into force from January 2021. From 2022, vehicles with sticker 5 will be banned, and from 2023, vehicles with sticker 4 will also be banned. In 2024 and 2025, vehicles with sticker 3 will follow, and then even those with sticker 2. With sticker 2, all diesel vehicles will then be banned de facto from the zone, as sticker 1 will only be given to petrol and hybrid vehicles. The restrictions for both locals and tourists will therefore be significantly extended in the coming years. The new zone in Toulouse is planned from April 2021 and will probably correspond to the existing temporary zone. The boundaries of the current environmental zone cover large parts of the urban area within the "Périphérique" ring road. The ring road itself lies outside the zone and can therefore continue to be used by older vehicles. In the Aix-Marseille-Provence region, the new zone is also expected to be within the ring road, and will extend all the way to the bank of the Quai du Lazaret in the west of Marseille. Although the Montpellier-Méditerranée region wishes to introduce its zone from 1 January 2021, no information on the extension or the rules is yet available.  
So far there have been about 30 low emission zones in France, all of which have already caused confusion with different rules. With four different zones -- some permanent and some temporary -- the capital has probably the most complicated system in the country. For example, the city centre permanently bans vehicles with sticker 4 and 5, and those that cannot get a sticker at all. A second, but temporary zone is also located in the city centre, but extends beyond the boundaries of the permanent zone. In the event of high levels of air pollution, the temporary zone can be activated and override the rules of the permanent zone, so that vehicles with sticker 3, for example, can also be banned. A second permanent zone with less strict rules in the greater Paris area and another temporary zone contribute to the chaos of rules. It already seems almost impossible to keep track. Nevertheless, the city is now going one better: On the 1st Sunday of each month, Paris will have a car-free day from 10am to 6pm, which even excludes purely electric cars. The affected areas are the Arrondissements 1-4, which are located north of the banks of the Seine, and the Champs-Élysées. The only exceptions to this driving ban are taxis, delivery vans, residents and care staff, and electric bicycles, although all of them are not allowed to travel at more than 20 km/h.
In Germany, too, air pollution levels often exceed the limits set by the EU, so that Germany may soon face a similar fate. With its almost 60 low emission zones, Germany is well ahead of the rest of the world - only Italy has many more zones - but since the rules are the same almost everywhere and you usually only need the green environmental sticker to be allowed to drive in the low emission zones, the system is comparatively simple. But even here, more and more diesel driving bans are now being introduced to minimise particulate matter and nitrogen oxide levels. Germany had already tried to raise the approved nitrogen oxide level to avoid the unpopular bans, but the EU remained firm: the limit value remains. Therefore, Germany will probably have to do more to avoid a similar complaint from the EU. It remains to be seen whether this will take the form of extended diesel driving bans, or whether cities will continue to use creative methods to circumvent them. One thing is certain, however: if the readings do not improve, a chaotic system with different stickers, temporary and permanent zones, and more car-free Sundays could be Germany's future.
To keep you informed about the latest zones and temporary driving bans in France, but also about the increasing diesel driving bans in Germany, download our free Green-Zones App. This way you'll always be well informed about the chaos of French and European zones and can avoid heavy fines. All developments on the topic are also published in our blog.