A year of demotorisation in the Ile-de-France region does not tell us much about the future of the automobile in France

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The publication of a fairly serious study on the vehicles still registered on 1st January of each year for the years 2012 to 2020 by the Apur concluded that the number of vehicles in the Greater Paris Metropolis has fallen over the last three years and that the number of vehicles in the Ile-de-France region will fall by 2020. This has led to comments that over-interpret this result to a large extent and tend to surf on the idea that Paris is less and less an exception and that what has been happening there for many years now will also happen elsewhere. The very content of the study tends, we claim, to show that the opposite is true.

It is with great pride that the Apur (1) officials have communicated the results of a study that the agency has devoted to the evolution of car fleets in the Greater Paris metropolis (MGP) and the Ile-de-France. Indeed, the study, which examines vehicles registered on 1 January of each year over the period 2012-2021, shows that, over the last few years, the decline in the number of vehicles no longer concerns only Paris but also the Greater Paris region (131 municipalities) and even, for 2020, the last year studied, the entire Ile-de-France. 

To be precise, the number of cars and light commercial vehicles registered in Paris has been falling continuously since 2013 and this fall has tended to accelerate since the first year of fall corresponded to 2,765 fewer vehicles, while the last two years saw almost 7,000 disappear. This was not true until 2017 for the MGP which, like the rest of metropolitan France, saw its registered fleet grow: for the municipalities concerned, the increase was between +25,000 and +42,000.

In 2018, 2019 and 2020, the MGP fleet decreased by 6,193, 3,841 and 10,279 units respectively. Since Paris is included, this means that in 2018, in addition to the 4,610 vehicles that disappeared from Parisian registrations, 1,583 passenger cars and light commercial vehicles left the fleets of the 130 other communes. In 2019, the drop in registrations in the MGP was less than in Paris and the fleets of the other 130 communes had therefore grown (by more than 3,000 units). In 2020, as in 2018, the decline in Paris (by 6,789 vehicles) was effectively combined with that in the other 130 communes (by 3,500 vehicles). As for the Ile-de-France, its fleet only decreased in 2020 and, since this decrease was only 8,561 units while the MGP lost 10,279 vehicles, we must deduce that, in the Ile-de-France, excluding the MGP, the fleet continued to grow...

The contrast between the very "fragile" and potentially temporary nature of the phenomenon and the extent of the media hype that surrounded the dissemination of the study clearly indicates how important it is to be able to present what is happening in Paris as a prefiguration of what must happen everywhere and not as a case so particular that the observations made concerning it cease to be valid as soon as one crosses the ring road. 

Patrick Ollier, Mayor of Rueil and President of the MGP, comments on the figures as follows:  
"It's not huge, since the Greater Paris metropolis includes 131 towns. But it does indicate a shift in the population's habits of systematically acquiring vehicles." 

Seeing this as an opportunity to defend his ZFE-m, he hastens to make the connection: "The problem for us is to fight against fine particle pollution, which is largely caused by traffic. The only solution is to change the nature of the modes of transport, with bicycles but also with electric or hybrid vehicles. We have to make the people of Ile-de-France and the metropolitan area aware of this necessity. It takes time, and there is a lot of teaching to be done. Little by little, we can feel a positive evolution.

Olivier Richard, director of studies at the Apur, evokes the causes of the phenomenon and after having evoked the tightening of the technical control, does the same for the after-sales service thus: "The other element of explanation is the evolution of alternatives to the car. We are in a region with a very good public transport network. Outside of Paris, we are also seeing - and this is very recent - the emergence of cycling, with cycling infrastructures. We are also in a period of change, with the advent of teleworking and third places, which means that people are not going to go to work every day. 
He adds:
"In any case, we can feel a basic trend towards demotorisation. We can also see this through indicators such as the rate of motorisation of households. The number of households that own vehicles is constantly falling, both in Paris and in the metropolis as a whole, and this is a new development in the Ile-de-France region too.

Given what we have underlined concerning the Ile-de-France, O. Richard considers that the 5 million inhabitants of the Ile-de-France who do not reside in the 131 communes of the Greater Paris area and who have motorised -and not demotorised- are basically in agreement with the Parisians and the metropolitans as if the majority choice will inevitably win them over: they will not be able to escape "the underlying trend". In the same way, the households concerned by the ZFE-m, which are going to be increasingly numerous, will certainly not all be able to change their vehicles to be able to continue to circulate, but they will then benefit from the "evolution of alternatives to the car" of which he speaks and, thanks to the "pedagogy" of the Apur, will know how to, in the words of P. Ollier, "change the nature of modes of travel".

The problem, even within the MGP, is that what is feasible in Paris is not necessarily feasible elsewhere and that the particularly low level of motorisation already in 2012 shows that demotorisation is all the more likely when it is already low, whereas it is more complicated when it is very high. In Paris, the average number of vehicles per household fell from 0.52 to 0.39 between 1990 and 2017. In France as a whole, it was 1.24 in 2017 (i.e. more than three times higher) and continued to grow everywhere except in the Paris region because mobility needs are growing and the capacity of alternatives to the car to cover them decreases as densities decrease and/or distances to city centres increase. The Apur study shows this.

There is certainly a slight decrease in the rate of motorisation between 2007 and 2017 outside Paris, but it is no longer 17.2% as in Paris but 4.9% and leads to a number of vehicles per household that is twice as high as that observed in Paris and 1.5 times lower than that observed in France. As if to illustrate our law and to indicate that bicycles and scooters will not convince all the inhabitants of the MGP as they did in Paris or Boulogne, the authors of the study state: 
"Among the 12 territories making up the metropolis, the decline in the rate of household motorisation is widespread over the period 2007-2017. However, it is less marked in the territories furthest from the centre of the metropolis (Paris Terres d'Envol, Grand Paris Grand Est and Grand Paris Sud Est Paris)."

Incidentally, the territories concerned are those that are experiencing the strongest demographic growth compared to those closer to the centre which, like Paris, are losing population. 

It is certainly true that compared to the rural world or the outskirts of other French cities, the alternatives are more important and easier to develop and this explains why, compared to the Paris region, we typically see equipment rates in large urban areas outside the Paris region that were 1.1 in 2017 (compared to 0.78). Nevertheless, the data processed by the Apur shows that in a whole series of territories 'the number of private cars is increasing faster than the population over the period under consideration', whereas areas such as Paris Ouest la Défense where the opposite is true are relatively rare, Paris being the only area that is losing population and seeing its motorisation rate decrease. To give the figures, in Plaine Commune (T6 = Saint Denis), the population grows by 5% between 2012 and 2019, the number of cars grows by 18% over the same period and by 20% over the period 2012-2021.

When we link these findings with the work on demographic growth in Ile-de-France over the recent period (2007-2017), we see that demographic growth is continuing at an annual rate of just over 55,000 inhabitants, mainly due to a very high natural balance (+109,000) which is not offset by the negative migratory balance (-52,000). However, this growth is not well distributed: the inner suburbs (92, 93, 94) are growing by 0.6% per year like the outer suburbs (77, 78, 91, 95), but while the Hauts-de-Seine are at 0.4% and the Yvelines at 0.2%, the Seine-Saint-Denis is at 0.8% like the Essonne. The five fastest-growing municipalities in terms of numbers of inhabitants are Aubervilliers, Massy, Saint Denis, Corbeil Essonne and Vitry sur Seine, and in terms of distance from Notre-Dame, the annual population growth rate is highest for municipalities located in the 30-39 km range (+0.9% compared with 0.6% for 20-29 and 0.7% for 40-49)

The author of the work, François Michelot, titles one of his paragraphs "territorial dynamics that are confirmed despite the Parisian exception" and in his conclusion entitled "towards a new urban sprawl", we read:

"The extremely dense territories of the hypercentre of the metropolis (Paris, western Paris) are now seeing their population decrease. The current crisis will undoubtedly reshuffle the deck. The people of Ile-de-France are increasingly expressing a desire for space and nature, reinforced by the development of teleworking. In the next few years, will we see the demographic erosion of the heart of the metropolis increase and spread to the dense areas of the inner suburbs? Consequently, a demographic revival should emerge beyond these geographical areas, which will not be without raising the question of urban sprawl, the artificialisation of new land and the provision of public transport for inhabitants who are increasingly distant from employment areas.

These trends are at least as likely as those dreamt of by Ollier and Richard. They indicate that the Parisian exception does not protect the MGP and the Ile-de-France from the major trends that structure French society and its relationship to space and the car. These trends involve a constant at best, and more often than not growing, equipment of increasingly older vehicles, which will make the EPZs, as they are currently being envisaged, deeply unbearable politically and socially.  

(1) The Apur presents itself as follows on its website: "The APUR, Atelier parisien d'urbanisme, a non-profit association created in 1967 and bringing together 29 partners, is a place of shared and prospective multiscalar study. It documents, analyses and imagines urban and societal developments concerning Paris, its territories and the Greater Paris Metropolis".

The weekly column by Bernard Jullien is also on www.autoactu.com.

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