Only cars and motorcycles with registration numbers ending in an odd number were allowed onto the streets today

Paris was enjoying a rare reprieve from traffic jams Monday as a draconian clampdown on cars, aimed at banishing stubborn levels of smog, went into effect.

Only cars and motorcycles with registration numbers ending in an odd number were allowed onto the streets of the French capital on Monday. Motorists with plates ending in an even number who slipped behind the wheel ran the risk of a 22-euro (30-dollar) fine.

Electric and hybrid vehicles, taxis, ambulances, driving school cars, refrigerated trucks and vehicles with at least three passengers were exempted.

The measure, known as “alternate driving,” was announced by the national government at the weekend as a way of trying to lift the cloud of particle pollution that has hung over the city for the past week.

Odd-plate cars could be grounded in favour of even-plate cars on Tuesday, but the government had yet to announce whether the plan, which aims to encourage more people to take public transport, will be continued for a second day.

Many motorists complained about the restriction and some drivers with even-number plates could be seen ignoring it Monday.

By mid-morning 3000 fines had been levied by the around 700 police who had fanned out across the city from dawn to screen cars and fine motorists flouting the restriction.

But many people appeared to have complied and opted to car pool or take public transport, which remained free for a fourth day Monday.

Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said traffic jams in the wider Paris region had shrunk by 60 per cent.

“#Alternatedriving succeeds, awareness, thank you all!” he tweeted.

“It’s like a Saturday morning,” a spokesman for the roads authority of the Paris region told BFM TV.

A spate of warm windless spring weather, coupled with cold nights, has been blamed for trapping the pollution that has cast a pallor over most of northern France and parts of the south-east in the past week.

Air quality in Paris had improved by Monday after five consecutive days of dangerously high particle levels last week, according to Airparif monitoring site.

The last time France grounded cars over pollution was in 1997. The measure was highly unpopular.

“To think that the Paris public transport system, which is heaving at peak hours, can absorb the flow of those who, one day out of two, have the wrong plate, is a rare (kind of) stupidity,” one reader complained on the website of Le Nouvel Observateur news magazine at the weekend.

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