How poor public transport in rural France has led to car dependency

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How poor public transport in rural France has led to car dependency
Many rural train services have been cut. Photo: AFP

A new report on the state of public transport in rural France has highlighted the problems facing people living there and prompted anger among local officials who believe all the resources are being concentrated in the country's towns and cities.


People who live in the French countryside who want to travel to major urban hubs within 50km have little option but to take their car, if they have one of course.

That's because there are simply no train or bus services that would provide them with an alternative form of transport, concluded a report by transport watchdog AQST (l’Autorité de la Qualité de Service dans les Transports).

Local mayors say that transport spending in France is far to skewed towards the big cities. Photo: AFP

The report also found that journeys taken using public transport in rural France take on average five times longer than in a car and were twice as long as equivalent journeys in Germany or Spain.

The report highlighted how France just didn't offer the same frequency of journeys by public transport as its European neighbours and the timetables did not cover as much of the day, with services starting later and finishing earlier.

Some 120 journeys were picked at random as part of the study and all required at least 25 minutes walk to get to the departure point.


For journeys of less than 50km there were only 2.6 services per day in France compared to 10.1 in Spain and 12.7 in Germany.

Those transport services cover 12.7 hours a day in Spain and 13.4 in Germany, but only 4.7 hours in France.

"In rural areas, the lack of public transport services leads to a state of almost total dependency on cars," Alain Sauvant, director of AQST told Le Figaro. 

He said the different transport providers need to coordinate better to ensure timetables are linked up to avoid users having long waiting times between services.

READ ALSO: These are the biggest challenges of living in rural France

In many rural areas the car is the only option. Photo: AFP

Germany of course does have some geographical advantages over France.

"As a country Germany is a twice as dense as France, which helps the economic viability of services in the countryside, particularly rail services," noted the study.

And the one positive for France was the price with public transport journeys in rural France costing on average €14.80 compared to €39.50 in Germany and €24.30 in Spain.

The mayor of the village of Ferré in Normandy summed up the problem.

"We have no option of public transport to go to the nearest town, Fougères, which is located less than 20 kilometres from my village," said Louis Pautrel, who is also the National Vice President of the Association of Rural Mayors of France (AMRF).

"As for the best connected rail station in Rennes, it is 67 kilometers away. There is a bus to get there from Fougères but it takes almost three times longer than the car," he added.

The local official had a message for the government.

"Stop focusing public services and economic activities around major cities. We need a territorial rebalancing with policies in favor of the most isolated areas," said Pautrel.

The mayor of a village in south western France recounted similar problems for those in his village.

Yves d’Amécourt, from Sauveterre-de-Guyenne, in the Gironde département said: “There are no fast and reliable public transport solutions to reach economic and cultural centres near my commune. We must open school transport options to other users in rural areas.”

He hopes the opening up of French rail network to competition in the coming years will help improve train links in rural areas, many of which have been closed in recent years.

The issue of a lack of public transport in the French countryside was the main response when The Local asked our readers to spell out the challenges of living in rural France.

READ ALSO: Rail services in rural France could soon be derailed


The 'yellow vest' protests were first sparked by an increase in the price of fuel, which many saw as an extra tax on rural residents, who have no option but to go by car. Photo: AFP

Dina Junkermann, who lives in Côtes-d'Armor in Brittany, said: "Having to drive everywhere is the worst thing, there being no public transport within a half-hour drive, except for one community bus on market day once a week, which is wonderful but has no flexibility at all.

"Living in a small rural village, it's difficult to go out for dinner. You can't have a drink if you have to drive home, and there's no alternative to driving.


"We have both had to go to hospital since living here, and it's a good 40 minute drive to the nearest one, which is a pain for daily visiting and follow-ups. 

"I worry about how we will cope when we are too old to drive, or if one of us becomes seriously ill or incapacitated."But there is hope for those living in rural France.

In January Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said she wanted a "battle plan" to work out how to save France's smaller rail lines and appointed local official François Philizot to study the viability of each line on a case by case basis.

However it remains to be seen what the French government has in store for railways and whether it has the money to keep them alive.

The recent yellow vest protests, seen as a rebellion by rural and small town France against the Metropolitan elite and sparked by an increase in fuel prices, might spur the government into taking action.




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