Last Sunday’s referendum in the city of Paris saw just 6% of eligible voters cast their ballots, but 55% supported a steep increase in parking charges targeted at heavier cars including SUVs.

There was no minimum turnout requirement at the referendum (there is none in Ireland either) so the new policy will be implemented. Since the parking charge will now be €18 per hour for the first two hours in the central area, you might wonder at the low turnout.

The explanation is simple: only the 1.5 million voters registered in the central areas of Paris had a vote, the charge is not applicable to those with residents’ parking permits and the central area of Paris has low car ownership anyway.

So lots of eligible voters simply do not care. Central Paris has a population of around 2.1 million out of the 11 million total for the built-up conurbation of the Île-de-France region. The city is roughly the size of London. Many of the nine million suburbanites will be unhappy about the referendum outcome but they did not have a vote.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has been a keen supporter of parking restraint (except for residents with a vote). Many streets have been pedestrianised, e-scooters have been banned and she has promoted cycling and public transport projects.

Dublin is a far smaller city than Paris but its traffic management problems have been exacerbated by the failures of planning policy and the resultant urban sprawl.

The city area of Paris is a promising environment for these measures since the central area has a notably high population density, roughly four times the figure for the inner suburbs of Dublin.

Central area residents in Paris already enjoy a 15-minute city in many respects and car ownership rates per household are even lower than in the central areas of Dublin, the lowest in Ireland.

Car dependence

For many Paris residents, public transport or cycling are feasible options. Paris has lower-density outer suburbs with higher car dependence but they are not mayor Hidalgo’s problem given the allocation of local authority powers in the French system.

As well as carbon emissions, car traffic in cities worsens air quality and occupies scarce public space including kerb-side parking. Many cities around Europe are exploring tighter parking restrictions and congestion charging. No Irish political party has committed to either of these options, but the Government has a study under way on traffic management which will have to consider them. Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan has already hinted at parking restraint without concrete proposals.

Dublin is a far smaller city than Paris but its traffic management problems have been exacerbated by the failures of planning policy and the resultant urban sprawl.

By far the fastest population growth has been in Kildare and Meath and outer suburban areas have, not surprisingly, much higher car dependence than the city proper. It would take a decade or more to implement a housing policy with the deliberate intention to bolster population density closer to the urban centre and thus help create a viable market for public transport. But there are short-term options along the lines of policies being pursued in Paris and other cities.

The only example of congestion charging for road use in Dublin is the time-of-day pricing on the Port Tunnel, where peak-time fees are about three times the off-peak figure.

The only other tolled roads (the M50 and the East Link bridge) have flat undifferentiated tolls, as do the other tolled roads around the country. Local politicians have resisted a more coherent pricing system on the M50, regularly congested at peak.

Free parking

The other obvious target for policy change is free, or under-priced, parking. Employers who provide staff cars expose their employees to benefit-in-kind tax but free parking spaces at the office are tax-free.

An even greater anomaly concerns free on-street parking for residents. Next time you are fiddling for coins to feed the meter in Dublin, check the cars parked nearby. You might spot a fourth sticker on the windscreen, alongside the tax, NCT and insurance discs. This little item, exclusive to residents, allows free kerb-side parking for the princely sum of €50 per annum, about the cost in the central area to feed the meter for a single day.

This is the key to the willingness of central Paris voters to impose extra parking charges on people from somewhere else and mayor Hidalgo clearly understands the motivation. It costs €200 a month and upwards to rent an off-street parking space in the more central areas of Dublin.

Tens of thousands of lucky residents are being gifted, effectively for free, an all-day on-street parking space on public property. Alternative uses for these quietly privatised assets include space for buses and cyclists. There are Victorian streets on bus routes in Dublin too narrow for traffic, clogged with residents’ cars parked all day for free.