• France's news in English

Paris costs boost ranks of commuter 'shuttlers'

AFP · 29 Sep 2013, 12:59

Published: 29 Sep 2013 12:59 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

They call them 'navetteurs'.

Easily identified by their distinctive, bleary eyes, they can frequently be spotted at dawn in and around train stations around one hour from Paris.

Once a rare species, the long-distance commuter is becoming part of France's social landscape, as a combination of sky-high property prices, digital technology and high-speed TGV trains push workers further and further away from their offices in the capital.

From places like Tours, in the Loire Valley, or Reims in the heart of Champagne country, a growing army of 'navetteurs' (shuttlers) have decided that the hassle of three hours a day of travelling is justified by the lifestyle payoff that comes with living out of the city.

Among them are a gang of regulars on the 6:53 am high-speed TGV train from Le Mans, a town best known for its famous 24-hour car race, 180 kilometres west of Paris.

"I call them my TGV buddies," says Benedicte Wiard, one of the group of professionals who are whizzed -- most days, all being well -- into the capital in just under an hour.

"The train is a bit like a second home, we have little parties, celebrate each other's birthdays and things like that," she adds.

The camaraderie makes it easier to endure delays and cancellations that can easily ruin the day of the long-distance commuter.

Hervé Rohee has been doing the Le Mans-Paris run since 2005. "When I started, it was supposed to be temporary!" he reveals. "I never thought I would still be doing it years later but now I'm not really thinking about stopping."

"I paid €100,000 ($135,000) euros for my house -- unimaginable in Paris."

That reasoning is echoed by Pascal Mignot, who quit Paris for Le Mans ten years ago. "Your quality of life is so much better. I will never go back to Paris."

Not everyone is happy with their daily travel grind however. On the line from Tours, cutbacks by French railways have reduced the number of trains drastically and ageing infrastructure has resulted in travel times rising from 55 to 80 minutes, leaving many feeling cheated.

"With every year that passes I get a little bit more fed up," admits Frederic Potet, who moved to Tours 14 years ago.

"I was less than an hour from Paris -- now with all the delays I can easily spend four hours a day on public transport. The myth of the provinces being one hour from central Paris has been exposed, commuters are asking themselves if they've not been conned."

"Then there is the problem of being neither a real Parisian, nor really from the place you live. It is hard to live in two or even three different places - your home, where you work and the train. In the end you don't live anywhere. It is a bit of a schizophrenic situation."

The widespread practice in France of employers refunding 50 percent of employees' travel costs has helped fuel the growth of long-distance commuting, although many companies are starting to balk at stumping up for season tickets costing between €450 and 600 ($600-800) a month.

Story continues below…

And while some commuters may think they have the perfect work-life balance, those on the 6:53 from Le Mans all agree that the cost of their tickets is not the only price they have to pay for their travel arrangements.

"In my job (as a paralegal) a good manager is one who is still at his or her desk late into the evening," said Nicole Mouquet. That is not an option for the 55-year-old, who has to be on a train just before 6:00 pm if she wants to be home for dinner. "I get in early but there is nobody there to see that," she said.

"Some navetteurs on short-term contracts have ended up not having them renewed because train delays meant they were arriving late," adds Pascal Mignot.

But for all the problems, the trend remains strong enough to have had a ripple "TGV effect" on property prices in towns with good links to Paris.

With more than 4,000 shuttlers, Tours is perhaps the best example and prices in the centre of the picturesque town, within walking distance of the train station, have defied a downturn in the rest of provincial France, according to local notary Xavier Beaujard.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

UK border must move back, says 'next French president'
Photo: AFP

If favourite Alain Juppé is elected, Britain and France are in for some difficult negotiations.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available