An SNCF diesel trainset stands at Le Tréport

Photo: Jean-Paul Masse

FRANCE: Passenger lobbying and campaign group FNAUT, consumer association UFC-Que Choisir and cycling lobby federation FUB are calling for improvements to regional passenger services across France ahead of the regional elections due to take place on June 20 and 27.

On May 27 the three organisations set out the measures that they believed were needed to attract passengers back to TER services following a period of stagnation that had begun before the Covid-19 pandemic. Traffic had risen by 55% between 2002 and 2012 but had then levelled off or fallen, explained UFC-Que Choisir President Alain Bazot, citing a combination of adverse factors such as low petrol prices, car sharing, strikes, deregulation of coach services and indifferent service quality.

In 2019 the régions spent €4∙8bn supporting TER services operated by SNCF, but average loadings had fallen to around 27%, indicating that a considerable amount of additional traffic could be absorbed at little extra cost.

However, punctuality needed improvement as a priority. In 2019 around 1 in 10 TER services arrived 5 min late or more; whilst nearly 10% of trains had been cancelled. Punctuality varied significantly from area to area, with trains in Bretagne, Grand Est and Normandie achieving on-time arrivals of 85% to 87%. In contrast, the figure for TER services in the Sud (formerly PACA) and Occitanie régions was around 74% to 76%.

The three organisations called for an annual 2% improvement in reliability, suggesting that this could be achieved with the help of a tougher performance-based penalty and bonus regime related to the level of subsidy. Passengers should benefit from season ticket pricing that was related to service quality, they suggested, with an obligation on the operator to refund passengers automatically for any delays.

To improve the attractiveness of local rail services, the associations said better connections were required between TER and TGV or TET inter-city services. It should also be possible for local passengers to use TGV services under TER conditions where they were routed over regional lines at the start or end of a long-distance journey. More cycle parking facilities were needed at stations, as well as additional capacity for cycles to be carried on board TER trains.

Finally, better relationships with users were needed at the strategic and operational level.