By Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) - France plans to make it easier for cities to introduce congestion pricing in a bid to reduce traffic jams and air pollution, the transport minister said on Thursday.
Elisabeth Borne said a draft law on mobility is now being vetted by the state council and will be presented to parliament next month. The new law will allow cities to introduce urban tolls and set limits on how much they can charge.
"Urban tolls will be part of the new mobility law, which will provide tools for local authorities to respond to mobility challenges on their territory," Borne told reporters at the Autonomy mobility conference.
France created a legal framework for urban tolls a decade ago, but it was so restrictive that no cities have used them.
Borne declined to give details, but a draft of the law posted by newsletter Contexte showed that cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants could charge cars up to 2.5 euros per entry into a restricted zone and cities with more than 500,000 people up to 5 euros for private cars and 20 euros for trucks.
The proceeds of the toll will go towards the local authorities, who can define the toll area, timing and tariffs with a view to limit car circulation and pollution.
People living inside the congestion zones, as well as low-income or handicapped drivers may be exempted from the charge.
Asked whether urban tolls could be introduced as early as next year, Borne said she was not aware of any local authorities that want to introduce tolls that soon.
Paris deputy mayor for transport Christophe Najdovski told reporters that city hall had no taboos or dogmas on the issue, but said that any urban tolls would have to be introduced at a regional level, not just within the Paris city limits.
He said the introduction of urban tolls should be part of a broad debate about mobility, including use of the proceeds, development of infrastructure and public transport tariffs.
Senator Fabienne Keller, who wrote a report about congestion pricing in London and Stockholm for the French senate, told reporters that both cities had seen a considerable reduction in traffic jams, travel times, accidents and atmospheric pollution.
She said both cities introduced congestion pricing after extensive public debate - London from 2003 in a 21 square kilometre zone, Stockholm from 2006 in a 47 km2 zone.
Stockholm drivers pay at least 1.6 euros and up to 2.7 euros during during rush each time they enter the restricted zone, which reduces congestion, while London charges a fixed 11.50 pound fee per day, valid all day.
"The Stockholm system is clearly seems more efficient at reducing congestion," Keller said.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Toby Chopra)