Paris has hiked parking charges on SUVs. Now cities like London are taking note

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Paris has hiked parking charges on SUVs. Now cities like London are taking note

A view of the vehicles parked on the street in Paris, France on Nov. 22, 2023. 

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Parisians have voted to hike parking fees on large SUVs — and it’s not the only European city to set its sights on heavier, more polluting cars.

At a referendum in Paris last month, almost 55% voted in favor of a specific parking rate for sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for non-residents. With a turnout rate of 5.7%, however, the poll represented only a small proportion of the capital’s electoral list.

The measure will see drivers pay up to 18 euros ($19.54) an hour to park in the center of Paris, and 12 euros an hour in the wider city. The higher charges will apply to SUVs weighing more than 1.6 metric tons that are hybrid or have a combustion engine, as well as electric SUVs weighing over 2 metric tons.

According to Jens Müller, deputy director and head of policy and research at the Clean Cities campaign group, “what happens in Paris usually doesn’t stay in Paris.”

He told CNBC that there’s a high chance of other cities following suit, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo agrees, saying following the vote: “Parisians have made a clear choice … other cities will follow.”

SUV sales surge

It comes as SUV sales continue to surge, with the International Energy Agency noting that “the shift towards heavier and less fuel-efficient conventional vehicles increases growth in both oil demand and CO2 emissions.” Global carbon emissions from the vehicles neared 1 billion tons in 2022, according to the IEA.  

SUVs remain popular because of their additional seating, storage space and higher driver position. Meanwhile, Edmund King, president of the U.K.’s AA, told the Times that there were “valid safety reasons why cars have got bigger.”

“Vehicle safety has improved substantially and much is down to Euro NCAP, [a safety standard] which means modern vehicles have crumple zones, pedestrian protection and numerous airbags, which all add to size,” he said.

However, data indicates that many of these larger cars are registered to homes in urban areas — causing a problem in already-crowded cities. An analysis of new car registrations in the U.K. by the campaign group Badvertising in 2021 showed that three-quarters of SUVs sold in 2019-20 were registered to urban addresses.

And cities in Europe are starting to take note.

The Paris vote followed in the footsteps of fellow French city Lyon, which has already announced a similar policy. Its plans to introduce higher parking charges for heavier vehicles which is due to come into force next June.

French city Grenoble, meanwhile, has already implemented a higher environmental tariff in car parks for heavier vehicles, and a spokesperson from the mayor’s office in Bordeaux told CNBC that the city and the mayor are “at the reflection stage on the subject of taxing SUVs.”

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In Germany, the southern city of Tübingen implemented a six-fold increase in the cost of an annual resident parking permits to 180 euros for combustion-engine vehicles weighing over 1.8 metric tons. While the mayor of Hanover, Belit Onay, told CNBC following the Paris vote that his city would “also have to face the question of how we deal with vehicles that take up more space.” 

It’s a nod to the fact that pollution isn’t the only potential issue with SUVs, with space and safety also of concern. Campaign group Transport & Environment — which runs the Clean Cities Campaign — has found that new cars in Europe are getting 1cm wider every two years on average. The group said that large luxury SUVs, with a width of around 200cm, now leave too little space for people to get in and out of other vehicles in typical off-street parking spaces.

Meanwhile, a study by the Vias Institute in Belgium, released in August, found that the risk of fatal injuries increases by 30% if a pedestrian or cyclist is hit by a car with a hood that is 10cm higher than average.  

‘Watching with excitement’

Prior to the Paris referendum, London Mayor Sadiq Khan suggested that he would be keeping an eye on the effectiveness of the policies. However, a spokesperson for Khan said via email that the mayor does not have the power to introduce an SUV parking charge, nor does he have plans to do so. 

The moves in continental Europe could be of particular interest to the U.K., with Transport & Environment noting that the country taxes petrol SUVs at a much lower rate than other countries in Europe. The campaign group said that this could make the U.K. a “tax haven” for these larger, more polluting cars.

It comes as U.K. sales of SUVs continue to surge, up by more than a fifth between 2022 and 2023, according to research from T&E, with SUVs accounting for 60% of all new car registrations last year. The group warned that this could “blow a hole” in U.K. carbon targets, given most are petrol and diesel, hybrids or plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Rezina Chowdhury, deputy leader for London’s Lambeth council, told CNBC that she had been “watching with excitement, what happened in Paris.” 

She explained that London’s Lambeth Council had introduced emissions-based charging last year and that the next step would looking at fees based on size. “It just feels wrong that in a city, that you have these massive vehicles,” Chowdhury said.

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