Parisians ‘may never return to public transport’, even after the pandemic ends

The public are not expected to return to Parisian public transport in anywhere near the same numbers following the Covid-19 pandemic as workers embrace home-working and alternative transport methods.

Parisians 'may never return to public transport', even after the pandemic ends
Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

But transport operators do not seem unduly worried by the fall-off in numbers.

Anyone who has endured rush hour on the Metro may be pleased to learn that the number of users is expected to be noticeably lower in future, according to the latest Mobility Futures study by the Kantar Institute.

With employees increasingly keen to work from home at least part of the week even after the pandemic ends, many plan to walk, cycle or take their car for the few days they are in the office.

One told Le Parisien: “The RER now is only for when it rains!”

And another said that working from home had freed up their weekends, and saved them a two-hour daily commute.

Passenger numbers on trains, trams and Metro services in May are running at 50 percent down on pre-Covid-19 levels – and operators fear they may never return, as Transilien director Sylvie Charles had suggested in a recent interview.

In a study of 10,000 people in 13 cities, the Kantar Institute found that satisfaction levels with public transport in Paris was just 26 percent, down from 34 percent in pre-Covid times – with only one in four believing that the health situation will improve enough to tempt them back in the near future.

It also compared unfavourably to 37 percent satisfaction with public transport services in towns and cities outside the French capital.

Meanwhile, private cars have enjoyed a surge in popularity, despite the efforts of public officials to promote other forms of transport.

“Our first study in 2019, a little before the health crisis, concluded that by 2030, the car would no longer be the dominant mode of transport, in favour of walking, cycling or public transport,” Isabelle Rio-Lopes, Director of Innovation & Mobility at the Institute said. 

Surprisingly, the rediscovered love for cars pre-dates the pandemic. “Individual modes were already rated higher than public transport in 2019. With the pandemic, the gap has widened, leading to a lasting return to the car,” Ms Rio-Lopes said. 

Sales of more environmentally acceptable vehicles with hybrid or electric engines have jumped in 2020, she said.

After walking, cars are set to be the preferred means of transport in Paris in 2021, according to Institute figures.

But Ile-de-France Mobilités (IDFM), the organising authority of public transport in the region, does not seem unduly concerned.

“We are not going to get back to the same levels of use as before the health crisis straight away. But there will not be a massive effect,” according to IDFM’s director general Laurent Probs. 

He said the authority had carried out several “very thorough” studies to identify changes in future transport habits. 

According to early results, a rise in remote working in and around the capital would lead to a 5 percent drop-off in commuter numbers.

“This is not necessarily a bad thing,” Mr Probst said, pointing out that IDFM has long advocated the partial use of remote working to ease pressure on the public transport system.

The predicted drop-off “reduces the load at peak times,” he said. “The drop in commuting because of Covid represents less than two years’ growth.”

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How to find cheap train tickets in France

Travelling by train is one of the best ways to see France - even with a mandatory mask on. Here - from railcards to sales - is how you can make it even better by cutting the cost of your ticket.

A blue high-speed Ouigo low-cost TGV train arriving at  de l'Est railway station in Paris, with the the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in the background
From cheap services to railcards, here's how to save money on train travel. Photo: Joel Saget / AFP

Railcards are the most common way to cut the cost of a ticket. In some cases, the card can even pay for itself in one journey. France’s rail operator SNCF has a range of cards available for everyone from impoverished students to regular business travellers with an expenses account to burn.

But if you’re not a regular traveller there are also a range of offers plus cheaper services to opt for.

Let’s start with the railcards.

Liberté card

This one’s really for business travellers, who use the TGV or Ouigo and Intercite trains regularly. And it comes with a price to match – €399 for a year. This guarantees cardholders 60 percent off SNCF’s Business Première fares when travelling standard class, and  45 percent off Business Première fares when travelling 1st class. Plus, there’s between 25 percent and 50 percent off TER fares in certain regions, and it’s valid for use in other European countries.

Forfait pass

Effectively a season ticket, this one’s for commuters who regularly use TGV INOUI or Intercité services to get to work. Prices vary based on how much you travel, and you can get annual, monthly or weekly passes. Click here for a calculation of how much you will have to pay.

Avantage Senior 60+ card

SNCF relatively recently rebranded its railcards under the Avantage umbrella. If you’re aged 60 or over and travel occasionally with TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER in France, you will save 30 percent on first and standard class travel, for an annual fee of €49. And there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

In fact, standard fares are capped for all destinations in France, no matter when you book. And that’s on top of a 30 percent guaranteed discount on 1st- and standard-class train tickets. 

You’re guaranteed affordable fares, even at the last minute. They’re currently capped as follows:

  • €39 or less for a short journey (under 90 minutes)
  • €59 or less for a medium-length journey (between 90 minutes and three hours)
  • €79 or less for the longest journey (over three hours)

Plus, there are savings on food and drink prices on the train – as well as other perks that are worth looking into.

Avantage Adulte Card

If you’re aged 27-59 and take TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER trains often, it’s worth looking into the Avantage Adulte card – which has replaced the Avantage Weekend and Avantage Famille cards – because you’ll save 30 percent on first and standard class tickets for the annual €49 fee.

Discounts extend to accompanying adults, and there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

As with the Senior card, standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Avantage Jeune Card

For anyone aged 12 to 27, the Avantage Jeune card will save you 30 percent on TGV Inoui and Intercité services that require booking for the annual €49 fee.

Standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Other ways to save money

If you’re not a regular travellers and don’t want a railcard, there are other ways to save money when travelling.

Ouigo trains

SNCF’s low-cost TGV service offers high-speed cut-price travel in and out of Paris to 17 French destinations. There are drawbacks though, the trains have fewer on-board services and some of them only go to stations close to a city, rather than the city-centre station – so it’s worth checking when you book exactly where you will end up.

Children under 12 years of age can travel for €5 all year long, or €8 to or from a station in Paris.

Railcards are valid on Ouigo trains, cutting ticket prices further.

Happy Hour

Be aware of last-minute ‘Happy Hour’ deals on available on select days for selected Intercité trains to a selection of destinations around France. You could save up to 50 percent on ticket prices. And, yes, railcards are valid.

Ticket sales

Watch out, too, for announcements of when tickets are available for sale. From November 3rd, for example, rail tickets are available up to March 27, 2022 – and up to July 2, 2022, for Inoui tickets.

Early booking may get you a good deal, and SNCF offers regular deals particularly around peak travel times such as summer and Christmas. Downloading the SNCF app will get you advance notification of sales.