Today in Paris, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., it is forbidden to travel by car in the capital, unless you use your feet, public transport, a taxi or a scooter, a bicycle, rollerblades, a skateboard, etc. Even electric cars and two-wheelers have to stay in the garage. Emergency vehicles, buses, taxis, VTC, are authorized. This is the operation “Paris Breathe” : September 18, a car-free Sunday. Decryption with the sociologist Jean Viard.
franceinfo: In order to breathe the city, the big city, does it have to do without cars?
John Viard: So first of all the air in the city in France is generally bad, Europe tells us, we are rather late, and it’s very dangerous, studies have just come out, in particular on the link between fine particles , lung cancer, etc. We have a real public health problem. The second thing indeed, is because of what? It’s not because of electric cars, so that’s what’s very complicated: do we want to remove the car from the city or do we want to remove pollution? And it’s not the same question.
First, because 70% of French people live outside metropolitan areas, in individual houses. So the question of mobility, it goes from one end of the center of the city to the other for those who go to the center, or to the house which is actually in the Yvelines, or elsewhere for Paris, but the same around from Marseilles or Lyons. So there is this real problem.
Personally, I tend to think that at the moment we are not innovative enough in terms of electric travel. At the limit, an electric car should be an object where there is barely enough to sit two people and which travels at 50 km/hour. Look at the young people, they are in the process of getting their hands on the little cars that we made fun of for our grannies 30 years ago, it’s the fashionable thing among young people: cars without a licence.
Aren’t these young people telling us: “But wait, that’s what we want in the city. You would only have cars of this size in the city, and they would be all electric. There would be a lot less traffic jams, it would take up a lot less space, and above all it would pollute less”. I think there is often confusion between the enemies of the car. The car still remains an object of freedom for people.
While it is necessary to develop the bicycle, of course, to develop public transport, absolutely, and to think of all the journeys because indeed I have my bicycle, I put it on the train, etc. A journey goes from one end to another, it is not a segment, as we have done for too long. So that is absolutely essential. But I sometimes wonder if there isn’t a confusion between the war on cars and the war on pollution.
Fewer cars? This obviously raises the question of the alternatives proposed. Where do you think we are in France? Are we at the level of our ambitions?
It’s complicated because the TGV is a fantastic object. It displaces a lot of people, it has brought our big cities together. It is clear that we have not invested enough in trains, especially commuter trains. There, we have a deep archaism. Me, what I fear is the monomaniacal ideology. We pushed the car way too far forward. We all agree on that.
It is necessary to articulate all these modes of movement. There are places, there will be small buses, there will be places where you can do everything by bike. You know, among the people who are less than five kilometers from their job, who could easily ride a bicycle, there are very few who go there. And what’s more, it’s socially divided. Managers cycle more than workers. We must move towards a society that pollutes less for the lungs, and we must articulate all these modes of travel according to the different territories.
And how can we accelerate change?
I believe that you have to know a company to propose rational and simple solutions. Right now, if you want to buy a car, nobody understands anything, because we are in a process of change. You go to a garage, they tell you but wait, don’t buy because the model will change, etc. So we are in a huge period of change where people are extremely lost.
The more cars drive in the city, the more they need to be electric. Taxis, post office, fire brigade, police, cars, delivery people: 20% of cars are service cars in a city, it should be completely electrified, it’s not the age of the car that matters , is the number of kilometers it travels. So we have to do sociology work, to know why people take their car, where, when. You have to think of the polysemy of objects for a polysemy of uses, and get away from the idea that we had before, where we said to ourselves: “I have MY car and I do everything with the same object”.