It Would Drive you Mad

Personal mobility; A God given right?


Motoring is fast becoming a luxury. 

Sure we can’t survive without our cars, nowadays though, you think twice about going somewhere by car.

We are however a « car culture ».

Take my small town as an example.  Parking in the centre of town is limited. It is expensive. It is far easier to drive out to the « Edgelands » and do your shopping. Vast superstores miles away from the centre of town, offering far more choice than downtown shops and all stores come with free parking. I won’t say that my downtown is totally dead, but it is certainly in its death throes.

Without considering the impact of modern motoring on urban development, I now think twice about trundling into town with my car.

The price of petrol apart, parking prices in my town have increased by ten percent during the last year.   Now, I know that we don’t always pay our parking. We all take our chances.

You’re only in town for a few minutes. Why slip your hard-earned pennies in the parking metre?  There are no police or traffic wardens about; you might just get away without a ticket.

For years and years, I would never pay parking charges in town. I always considered that shopping in town was my way of supporting local business, why should I pay for my parking space, when the purpose of my visit was to give my money to local business?

So, now we come to the serious point.

The French government are all set to double parking fines.

As things stand, I pay just over a Euro for an hour’s parking in my town (Yes I can hear you laughing – our local parking charges are peanuts) – However, If I don’t slip a Euro in the metre and display a valid ticket, the fine is 17 Euros.  I have 45 days to pay my fine. Failure to do so within this period will result in my fine being doubled. Failure to pay the double fine within the following 45 days will result in a Court summons.

Anyway, in the past few days, the French government have made it known that they will be doubling all parking fines. My first 17 Euro misdemeanour will now be costing me 35 Euros.

To give you some kind of picture – 17 Euros is roughly the price of 3 packets of cigarettes. If you are not a smoker, 17 Euros is the price of a best-selling novel down your local bookshop.

35 Euros on the other hand will buy you a reasonable dinner with a half bottle of wine in a local restaurant.

Increased parking charges are a sign of the times. Everyone needs money. However, my bone of contention concerns the final destination of my fine money.

When writing a cheque for my parking fine, on that line reserved for the payee, I write the words « trésor public » – You see, that when I pay my fine, the money doesn’t go to the local authorities, it goes directly to central government.  For sure, the local authorities do eventually get a percentage of the money, but most of the cash goes straight into the pocket of the Paris-based central government.

Central government will of course argue that the money I have paid will be used for « national road improvement projects » but, I would prefer for my money to be spent locally.

I suppose though, that were it down to my local authority to set the levels of fines, they might be even higher  – our local council is currently running a 140 million Euro debt.

So, where will all the money go?

Money raised from the increase in parking fines has been earmarked to finance a new, multi billion Euro public transport scheme for Paris and the Ile de France region (Call this Paris and the greater Paris region) – New metro lines, tram lines and rail links to the city’s airports – all to be financed with the raise.

Soon, if I receive a parking fine in my part of small town France, the money will go to finance public transport in the nation’s capital.

I have nothing against Paris, it is a beautiful city. I have nothing against the Parisians. Why though, should I be paying for their public transport?

Imagine asking the good citizens of Manchester to pay for improved public transport in London? Most Mancunians loathe Londoners. The French equivalent of this most acrimonious of relationships would be the mutual loathing between Paris and the southern city of Marseilles.

Well, from now on, I shall be paying my parking space. I would rather slip 1,10 Euros in the parking metre than pay a 35 Euro fine to help the Parisian have a better transport. Besides, when I do pay my parking space, he money goes directly to my town.

From parking fines to fuel prices.

There are roughly 40 million motorists in France (so this probably means that there are just as many cars) most drivers fill up once a week for an average price of just over 30 Euros. In France we have three choices of fuel at the pump – two star and four star  unleaded petrol – which in France is classified by its octane content 95 for 2 star and 98 for 4 star – we also have diesel. A staggering two thirds of French cars run on diesel, and with good reason, a litre of diesel at the pump is on average 20 Euro centimes cheaper than a litre of petrol.

In most other European countries, diesel is more expensive, and in some cases, finding a petrol station with a diesel pump is almost an impossible task. Last summer, on a motoring holiday in Italy, almost half the petrol stations we visited did not have diesel.

So, why the French penchant for diesel? Well, as I said, the stuff is cheaper than petrol, but also you (supposedly) get more mileage out of a litre of diesel than you do from a litre of petrol. 

Around ten to fifteen years ago, only one third of French cars ran on diesel, however during the Nineties an the Noughties, successive governments ran scrappage schemes to try and get as many petrol cars off the road as possible. Well, petrol (although unleaded) was dangerous. Petrol fumes were far more harmful than diesel fumes, so via a system of generous « cashbacks » motorists were encouraged to trade in their old petrol guzzling cars for « cleaner » diesel cars. At the height of the scrappage schemes, anyone owning a petrol driven car over eight years old, could trade it in for a brand new diesel car and get a 1000 Euro cashback, generally given in the form of a reduction on the new car. Many dealerships often doubled the premium.  The results were twofold. Not only did we all buy diesel cars, but also we bought small « economical » cars.

All this is now having repercussions on the French second hand car market. There is a surfeit of small compact diesel cars, and also anyone trading in such a car is getting peanuts for it, because there are so many of them around.

In recent days, the French government announced that it was thinking of aligning diesel prices on petrol prices.  The new brought immediate howls of anguish from the nation’s drivers, car dealers and manufacturers.

After fifteen years of getting us all to convert to diesel on the grounds that it was safer than petrol, where was the logic in the decision. Well, government scientists now say diesel particles are as dangerous as petrol fumes, in fact, petrol is possibly safer.

Cynics say that the move to bring diesel prices into line with petrol prices has nothing to do with environmental concerns. An overnight 20 Euro centime hike in diesel prices will rake in billions of Euros in fuel duty for the government. Just imagine nearly 25 million motorists suddenly paying anywhere between 10% to 15% more for their litre of diesel.  Of course there is still the argument that diesel will take you further than petrol.

I’m not sure if the hike in diesel prices will be enough to provoke yet another French revolution. Rest assured though, French motorists will be taking to the street to demonstrate.

Finally, to the subject of speed cameras.

After increases in parking fines and fuel prices and a 2,6% increase in motorway tolls, if you can actually still afford to drive anywhere, then beware of the new generation of police speed cameras, deployed on the nation’s roads for the first time last week. The new generation detection devices are of course more accurate than the previous one. The major difference though is that the new cameras can be used « on the move » and unlike the speed cameras of old, the new ones will be fitted in and operated from unmarked police cars.

Take my advice folks; just leave the car at home.