As part of an anti-pollution push all public transport will be free in Paris this weekend. The initiative is being undertaken due to ”significant risks to the health of residents” brought by increasing air pollution, which has been at “maximum alert” for the last three days in nearly a third of the 22 regions in mainland France. Reports cite a lack of wind during the anticyclonic period and cold nights followed by balmy days as the driver of the poor quality air. Monitoring centers have reported a particularly strong concentration of particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns — so-called PM10 particles — in the air. Pollution alerts are issued in France when the concentration of these small particles reaches or breaches 80 micrograms per cubic meter. In Paris, on Thursday, the fine-particle pollution level was 100mg/m3.
Transport authorities hope that the move will serve its purpose: keeping cars off the streets at least until the end of the alert; in the past week authorities have shared advice to French citizens on how to minimize the effects of pollution and have also imposed strict road rules to try and cut pollution, lowering speed limits and upping the frequency of police checks on vehicles to ensure that they are running well and in line with environmental standards – and are also complying with the new speed limits.
The initiative might have some immediate positive effects like reducing the alert level, but the underlining issue of how to tackle the major environmental health problem of air pollution is still not on the table. Unless policy makers take a strong stance on combating it and outline a coherent long-term plan, soon many cities around the world will start offering free public transport. And it won’t be a good sign.