A tale of two tonnes

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
9 February, 2024

The Revolution’s catch-cry of ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’ is still France’s motto. It seems, however, that ‘equality’ doesn’t get you very far in Paris. Some cars are more equal than others.

In a world first, the city’s people voted to triple parking fees. The referendum was strange, however. Less than 10 percent of eligible voters turned out - and of those, just 55 percent supported the bill.

In any case, it is not an increase across the board. The rule only applies to heavier vehicles (not only SUVs, as some media reports suggested).

Petrol vehicles over 1.6 tonnes and EVs over 2 tonnes will be charged three times as much as lighter vehicles, even if they take up no additional parking space.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité? Perhaps one shouldn’t take everything too literally.

Parking for six hours at $190 will prevent the owners of large SUVs from driving into town.  Liberté feels different.

Owners of heavier cars will also struggle with the égalité bit. Why is a Tesla Model 3 at just under 2 tonnes paying the standard parking tariff but a slightly lighter VW Passat paying much more?

And finally, fraternité. When a tiny part of the resident population can impose such draconian fees on the rest of their fellow citizens, it may not quite seem like an expression of brotherly (or sisterly) love.

But perhaps we have read the French motto wrong all these years. Perhaps liberté is the freedom to pass any laws you like, even stupid ones? And do égalité and fraternité mean that anyone can have a go with new nonsense schemes?

In a sense, it barely matters what Parisians charge for parking spaces. I have never in my life paid for a parking space in Paris, and I want to keep it that way.

But in our interconnected world, ideas travel fast and stupid ideas even faster.

The mayor of Hanover, Germany expressed
interest after Paris’ ridiculous scheme went viral. London was watching the Paris example with interest, according to The Guardian.

Meanwhile, Newshub has reported that even Wellington is considering the idea.  Rumour has it that that Paris might also be interested in our water management policies.

As absurd ideas crisscross the globe, one wonders whether common sense has gone on holiday.

Perhaps the true spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity lies in the freedom to question such folly before it parks itself on our doorstep at our own expense.

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