Paris put skids under 'Moto-crottes' and turns attention to dog owners

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One of the most celebrated of Parisian institutions, almost as well-known as the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, is to be abolished from next year.

One of the most celebrated of Parisian institutions, almost as well-known as the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, is to be abolished from next year.

The "moto-crottes" or "Chiraclettes" - converted motorcycles that suck up dog faeces - are to be retired after 20 years of loyal but largely ineffectual service to the pavements of the French capital.

The Paris town hall has decided that the motorbikes are inefficient, costly and encourage a laissez-faire attitude (so to speak) among the city's 20,000 dog owners. Instead, the town hall is to extend a campaign of education and repression, begun two years ago.

In truth, the Chiraclettes - small motorcycles with suction machines bolted on - have already become a rare sight. Fire swept through their garage last year, destroying 50 of the 100 vehicles in the fleet.

Yves Contassot, the deputy mayor for environmental affairs, has now decided to pension off the remainder from the end of the year, saving €4.5m (£3.1m) annually. Dog faeces will be removed in future by ordinary street-cleaning machines and cleaners with brooms.

Dog dirt is a serious problem in Paris, as many an unwary Parisian or visitor can testify. The city's dogs are estimated to produce 16 tons of faeces a day. According to the town hall, an average of almost two people a day are taken to hospital in Paris after slipping on the mess. The combination of excrement and rain and cobbles is especially deadly.

Complaints about dog faeces are the single biggest source of letters to the town hall - far more than letters on crime. Long-term Parisian residents are said to admire the beauty of their city only rarely. Their eyes are fixed downward, scanning the route ahead.

None the less, under the last but one Mayor of Paris, the problem was, metaphorically speaking, swept under the carpet. President Jacques Chirac (Mayor from 1977 to 1995) refused to crack down on dog owners, partly, it is said, because they tended to vote for him.

Instead, he set up in the early 1980s the most elaborate system of dog faeces cleansing in any city in the world. The light motorbikes equipped with suction equipment were supposed to clean up to 80 per cent of the city's streets each day. The town hall now admits that they rarely reached more than one street in five. The bikes were officially called Caninettes but became known as "moto-crottes" (turd bikes) or, more wittily, Chiraclettes. This is a pun on the ex-mayor's name and the words chier (shit) and raclette (scraper).

The new socialist-green administration in Paris, which took office two years ago, has taken a much tougher line with selfish and thoughtless dog owners. Fines for fouling the pavement - €183 (£125) for a first offence, €450 for repeat offenders - are being strictly enforced for the first time. More than 4,000 fines were levied last year. Until now, the city's squad of 90 dog-faeces inspectors has only worked until 8pm. But studies show that most dog owners use the streets as canine toilets before they go to bed. Inspectors will now work, on one random day each week, until 11.30pm to catch offenders.