French rail ticket prices to be slashed in bid to win back passengers

French rail ticket prices to be slashed in bid to win back passengers
French rail chiefs said on Friday that ticket prices for high-speed TGV trains would be slashed in a bid to win back disgruntled passengers turned off by weeks of strikes and disruption.

There may be some light at the end of tunnel for rail passengers in France.

While the strike by French rail workers is set to continue until the end of June rail operator SNCF plans to launch an “operation to reconquer” customers affected by the weeks of rail strikes launched in protest over planned reforms.

SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy said on Friday that some three million tickets for the high-speed TGV trains that link major French cities will be sold for under €40.

“It seems totally normal to show some sympathy towards our clients in order to restore confidence. We will make some commercial gestures,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

“Between May 15th and August 31st we will offer 3 million TGV tickets for less than €40 to all destinations on all days,” he said. “The tickets will go on sale on May 15th with the idea that all available places during this period will be sold at half price.”

Discount cards for senior citizens and for young people will also be sold at a cheaper price.

Pepy also said that those rail passengers in the Paris region who hold season tickets will soon be reimbursed “at least 50 percent of the cost” for the months impacted by the strikes.

This week unions representing rail workers announced they will hold a company-wide vote next week on the government's contested overhaul for the heavily indebted group, aimed at proving that support for a long-running strike remains strong despite signs it is tapering off.

Laurent Brun, head of the rail branch at the hard-line CGT union, said late Wednesday that the weeklong consultation would kick off on Monday, when unions have vowed to step up their protest with a “day without trains”.

“It's important to stamp out this idea that 80 percent of rail workers support this reform,” Brun said at the CGT headquarters in Montreuil, just east of Paris, adding that many workers cannot strike for “financial reasons”.

Just 14.5 percent of SNCF workers took part in Wednesday's strike, the lowest level since the rolling action began in early April, though 53 percent of train drivers walked off the job.

The vote echoes a similar move last week by striking unions at Air France, in which the government holds a minority stake, which stunned many analysts by showing widespread support for a pay protest — and prompted the head of the airline's parent company Air France-KLM to quit.

But union leaders said the goal was not to push out SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy but to show that opposition to the rail overhaul, a key move in President Emmanuel Macron's wide-ranging reform drive, remains strong.

“The idea is not to have Pepy's head, it's to give workers a chance to express themselves” without going on strike, said Bruno Poncet of the SUD-Rail union.

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