Mon, Jan 17, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Parking chaos as Paris makes an attempt to sort traffic

THE OBSERVER , PARIS

To a tamer motorist, the haze of exhaust fumes rising amid a chorus of klaxons on the junction of Rue de Varenne and Rue Bourgogne would denote impossible gridlock. But plumber Manu Mota always finds a way.

"There are plenty of places to park. It's just that they are not legal," announces the 57-year-old plumber while he eases his battered white van across the street corner, before parking the front wheels on one pedestrian crossing and the rear wheels on another.

Portuguese-born Mota, who has been defying Parisian road realities since 1971, climbs out of his van and goes into a plumbing supplies shop.

Everyone agrees that driving in Paris has never been as bad as in the past two weeks when roadworks marked by yellow deviation signs seem to have sprung up everywhere.

socialists and greens

"The Socialists and Greens in the city hall are deliberately making our life hell. I would be happy to pay an annual charge to drive in Paris. It would be tax-deductible for us anyway," he says to nods of approval from his colleagues in the shop. "But the mayor and his friends say charges are elitist."

The radio is playing music but it won't be long until the next talk show in which motorists -- and pedestrians and bus passengers -- call in with hellish stories of four-hour journeys from the suburbs, and praise for London's congestion charge, Strasbourg's free bicycles and the Dutch idea of motorway express lanes for buses.

Since being elected in 2001, socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe has embarked on a campaign to cut pollution, build a tramline, broaden pavements and oblige motorists to respect bus and cycle lanes.

But while the number of cars in central Paris has fallen by 5 percent since 2002, their speed has declined by only 1 percent and rush hour has increased by 60 minutes.

fewer passengers

City authorities claim Metro and RER commuter rail service use has increased by 15 percent in the past year.

However, the figure is contested by the opposition which says Metro use is down by 2.8 percent and the RER had 2.3 percent fewer passengers in 2003 than in the previous year.

Mota only takes notice of his own statistics -- his parking fines: 20 in the first 15 days of this year, at a rate of 35 euros each.

It will probably get worse for him this year: following the introduction of speeding radars on the peripherique ringroad two years ago, CCTV cameras will be installed next month on the Champs-Elysees.

scrapped parking

This year, 6,000 parking spaces will be scrapped in central Paris.

Heading over the Henri IV bridge towards his next call in the Marais district, Mota points out that even cyclists get fined for using bus lanes.

"Ridiculous," he says. "Especially since police cars use the lanes with abandon, even when they are not on an emergency call. And have you ever seen a French police car stop at a red traffic light?"

Nevertheless, he concedes: "Something has to be done about the private cars in Paris. They all have just one person in them, the driver. The French are so individualistic that they do not even want to share the air they fart into with other people."

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