PARIS: Paris made all of its public transport services free from December 7, 2016. Mayor Anne Hidalgo confirmed that the French Government was taking air pollution very seriously. With Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 and PM10 touching 106.5 µm and 200 µm as per the Air Quality Index (AQI), air pollution in Paris had become a health crisis. Wood, fuel and industrial fumes generated effluents that due to the winter season mixed with the cold air in the atmosphere. This led to generation of smog like conditions. With the PM enmeshed with atmospheric cloud about a km above the ground level, it was a cause for concern.
Airparif, the air quality monitoring network in France commented that, “Optimal wind conditions would not have allowed air pollution levels to go up but due to very weak winds, the pollutants are not being dispersed adequately from the atmosphere. The cold weather has created a low-pressure area that has made it hard for the fog to dissipate.”
However, the free public transport drive cost the city exchequer almost €4 million a day and thus wasn’t continued. Nevertheless, government officials began experimenting with driverless e-buses.
The way forward
Recently, two electric-power EZ10 minibuses, which can carry up to six seated passengers, were put into service and will be tested until early April between the Lyon and Austerlitz stations in Paris. The GPS-guided vehicle is free and will be running seven days a week. Jean-Louis Missika, Deputy Mayor of Paris says, “Self-driving vehicles will change the urban landscape within the next 20 years. Equipped with a system detecting objects, the EZ10 can adjust its trajectory to avoid obstacles and does not need heavy infrastructure to be operated.”
Hidalgo added that air pollution would invite intervention from the highest levels of government. Vellib bike-share, Paris Metro and bus services and Autolib electric cars have been roped in to provide commuter services to foreigners and citizens. All vehicles, Hidalgo commented will need to have anti-pollution stickers.
Dubbed CRIT’Air the system consists of six categories and colours, that will show the year of the vehicle’s registration, its energy efficiency, and the vehicle’s emission quantity. They range from ‘Green’ for electric or Hydrogen vehicles, to a level 5 sticker for the ‘Most Polluting’ vehicles. CRIT’Air bans all diesel-powered cars registered between January 1997 and December 2000 from the capital. The stickers are large enough for police and traffic officials to verify the pollution capacity of a vehicle. Foreign vehicles are not excluded from this system. Violation of this rule carries a fine from €68 to €135. About 6 percent of France’s 32 million, i.e., 19 million cars fall into this category.
To ease the frustration of disgruntled drivers and commuters who may have to buy a new vehicle, the ticketing system has also been modified. Now, Parisians will be able to buy a day pass for public transport for €3.80, the price of two one-way tickets, no matter where in the city they are travelling.
While speaking to The Age, Hidalgo also commented, “About 2,500 people die in Paris because of air pollution and the current situation demands that we act fast. I also reaffirm my pledge to ban diesel vehicles in Paris by 2025.”
In a conversation with The Telegraph, Sergolene Royal, French Minister for Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs announced, “The French government will give financial incentives to people buying electric vehicles whereby owners would get €10,000 in return for replacing an older polluting vehicle with an electric one.”
China’s battle against air pollution
In this perspective, it is important to understand China’s role to combat air pollution. With Beijing pollution levels standing at 301 for PM2.5 and 154 for PM10 on the Air Quality Index (AQI), certain steps have been taken to combat this menace. Interesting among them is the Smog Cannon. As per China Radio International (CRI), the smog cannon in Xinhua has been effective in curbing suspended particulate matter (SPM) to an extent.
Smog cannon or Mist Cannon are specialised machines that spray liquid into the air as far as 200 metres away and up to 60 metres in the air. Lanzhou City in Gansu Province has also adopted the mist cannons. The primary buyers of these machines are mainly companies involved in construction, coal and other heavy industries.
Wu Chao, vice manager of the Hebei Yuanda Vehicles Manufacturing Co. comments, “Our company sold more than 100 mobile mist cannons in 2015. With time, the canons will be upgraded to deliver better results under strenuous situations.” Hoping to make ecological commuting a conscious aspect of daily life is the aim of a Chinese company-Ofo. Founded by 5 Peking University graduates, Ofo has put around 2,50,000 bright yellow bikes to work since late 2015 within China
Li Zekun, marketing director, Ofo comments, “Our Company logo resembles a bicycle. In 1980, 63 per cent commuters bicycled to work which today stands at less than 12 per cent. We wish to change that. Thanks to investments from technology giants such as Chuxing and Tencent, our bikes make about 1.5 million trips between cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.”
The intention behind the ‘Cycling Renaissance’ is to revive the ‘Kingdom of Bicycles,’ a term that was synonymous with China.
Moreover, as per EV Sales Blogspot Report, ‘In 2015, China had 170,000 e-buses in circulation. Shenzhen City is planning to make 15,000 buses run on electricity by the end of 2017.’
Ultimately, air pollution, if tackled properly as we see in the above instances, will become a thing of the past. Political will and technological innovation would be deciding factors in this campaign.