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ENVIRONMENT

Map: The towns in France where you can travel around for free

Paris might be considering making public transport free but did you know a growing number of French towns have already taken the radical step. Here's a map of where in France you can travel without coughing up the cash.

Map: The towns in France where you can travel around for free
Photo: AFP
While Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo is seriously examining whether it would be possible to make public transport free, but other towns across France, albeit far small than the capital have already made the move.
 
The seaside town of Dunkirk in northern France, whose network extends to 200,000 people, is the latest town to announce plans to make travelling around on public transport completely free.
 
After making bus tickets free at the weekends in 2015, Mayor of Dunkirk Patrick Vergriete called this next step — set to happen September 2018 — will be nothing short of a transport “revolution”. 
 
 
“Not only are we redistributing spending power,” he told Le Parisien. “But we are getting rid of inequalities by providing better access to jobs and leisure facilities.”
 
Last summer Niort in western France became the 15th town in France to introduce completely free public transport (see map below for full list) in a bid to crack down on traffic problems and boost the local economy.
 
 
Photo: AFP
 
There are also nine other French towns offering partially free public travel, with users paying only on certain days or in certain areas.  
 
These are Compiègne (which started the ball rolling way back in 1975!), Neuves-Maisons in eastern France, Carhaix in the north west, Vitre in the west, Gap in the east, Manosque and Aubagne in the south east, as well as Libourne and Muret in the south west. 
 
Supporters say the scheme encourages people to use public transport instead of cars and boosts economic activity in town centres
 
And a study showed that once Dunkirk made it free to travel by bus on weekends, the number of users increased by an average of 5,000 users a day, with families, young people and the elderly benefiting the most.
 
There is also the argument that it provides a car-free solution for the future.
 
And this is no laughing matter for local authorities, with the French government promising in October to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and ban them in Paris by 2040, something which is likely to put more pressure on public transport. 
 
However detractors, including France's national transport network GART, say that towns should be introducing means tested travel rather than making it free for everyone. 
 
“It’s important to remember that even if transport is free for users, it is not for the city. When users don’t pay, it has to compensate for those losses,” GART said in a statement. “In order to help people with fewer means, we would prefer fees to be income-based rather than fares based on the sole status of being an individual.”
 
These are the towns in France where you can travel for free: 
 
Map: Map Customizer 
 
1. Compiègne
2. Noyon
3. Pont-Sainte-Maxence
4. Crépy-en-Valois
5. Chantilly
6. Carhaix
7. Mayenne
8. Senlis
9. Vitré
10. Châteaudun
11. Neuves-Maisons
12. Saint-Brevin-les-Pins
13. Issoudun
14. Niort
15. Châteauroux
16. Gap
17. Libourne
18. Figeac
19. Nyons
20. Gaillac
21. Manosque
22. Castres
23. Muret
24. Aubagne
 
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Question: Can Paris really ban petrol cars by 2030?Photo: AFP

ENVIRONMENT

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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