The establishment of low emission zones (ZFE) to fight against air pollution in large cities is meeting strong opposition from the population, who fear a widening of social and territorial inequalities, according to a Senate study published Thursday . Never has a Senate consultation with citizens received so many opinions: more than 51,300 responses in less than a month. Never before has it received so many negative reviews.

“This success, in quotation marks, testifies to the many concerns that this device generates among the French, even if it is a consultation based on the principle of volunteering and not a representative survey”, explained to the press the senator of the Alpes-Maritimes Philippe Tabarot (LR), rapporteur of the control mission on the ZFE which must deliver its conclusions mid-June.

In total, 86% of individuals and 79% of professionals who answered the twenty or so questions asked by senators said they were opposed to the deployment of EPZs. Of the respondents, 93% are individuals and 7% professionals.

“This is a technocratic measure that also creates a real break in equal access to the city center depending on whether you are well off or not,” reads one of the testimonies.

A generalization of ZFEs in France is provided for by law by 2025 in the 43 agglomerations of more than 150,000 inhabitants. To date, eleven metropolises, led by Lyon, Grenoble and Paris, have their ZFEs with different schedules.

“We had the question of the Yellow Vests because we were touching the car. There too we touch the car, so we cannot fail to see a similarity there”, but “we do not want to come to that”, commented Mr. Tabarot. “We really don’t want to create an additional social bomb when there are already a few.”

Among the findings of the consultation, the results of which were analyzed by a data specialist, the further a respondent lives from the center of an agglomeration, the more he tends to be unfavorable to the establishment of an EPZ. Thus, only 8% of the inhabitants of rural municipalities are in favor of it compared to 23% of the inhabitants of the city center. Having an alternative to the car also influences responses, with only 16% of respondents believing they have sufficient alternatives.

Finally, the feeling varies a lot from one socio-professional category to another, 25% of executives being in favor of EPZs against 11% of employees and 4% of manual workers. The first obstacle to the deployment of EPZs lies in the cost of acquiring clean vehicles, considered too high for 77% of individuals, ahead of the insufficient accessibility of metropolitan areas from peri-urban or rural areas (51%) and the lack of alternative transport offers (42%).

Despite the threat, in the long term, of a fine of 68 euros, 83% of individuals do not plan to change vehicles to attend an EPZ. The Senate’s “flash” fact-finding mission on the acceptability of EPZs has conducted more than 40 hearings since March.

“We see that today particularly proactive cities have set fairly tight schedules and are forced to go back. We are no longer on a political divide, ”acknowledged Mr. Tabarot. Regarding the largely negative feeling of citizens, the senator hopes to “find a crest line”.

“We cannot not take into account the figures we have, but we cannot not take into account the imperative of public health”, estimated the elected official, for whom it seems “obvious” that there is a “desynchronization between the calendar [des ZFE, NDLR] and the advance of alternatives to the car”.

The priority is therefore, according to him, “to move towards modal shift, towards public transport, because 40 million electric vehicles will not solve the problem of automobile congestion”.