Drivers in France warned of ‘red alert’ on roads as summer holidays start

France's roads watchdog raises travel alert levels for the first weekend of the summer holidays.

Heavy traffic on a motorway in France
(Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP)

Schools in France break up for the grandes vacances on Thursday afternoon – and holidaymakers are wasting little time setting off for a well-earned break, with Friday and Saturday set to be especially busy on the country’s roads as the great summer getaway begins.

France’s roads watchdog Bison Futé predicted consecutive days of traffic trouble this weekend, classifying travel on Friday in the direction of popular holiday resorts on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts as ‘difficult’ across most of the country, and ‘very difficult’ in the Île-de-France and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regions.

Return journeys are classed as ‘difficult’ in the south east of the country as those able to take their holidays before the rush start heading home.

Friday’s “traffic light” travel alert. Image: Bison Futé

On Saturday, traffic will be heavier still, Bison Futé warned, raising its travel classification to ‘very difficult’ across most of the country and to ‘extremely difficult’ in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

Travel on Saturday reaches black ‘extremely difficult’ levels in the south east. Image: Bison Futé

For those planning journeys to holiday destinations on Friday, Bison Fute advises:

  • Leaving or cross Île-de-France before 12noon;
  • Avoiding the A1, between Paris and Senlis, from 5pm to 8pm;
  • Avoiding the A10, between Orléans and Tours, from 3pm to 7pm;
  • Avoiding the A7, between Lyon and Orange, from 4pm to 9pm and between Salon-de-Provence and Marseille, from 3pm to 8pm;
  • Avoiding the A62, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 4pm to 8pm.

It warned those heading in the other direction to:

  • Leave or cross major cities before 3pm or after 8pm,
  • Avoid the A13 between Rouen and Paris, from 5pm to 8pm;
  • Avoid the A84 between Rennes and Caen, from 5pm to 7pm;
  • Avoid the A7 between Marseille and Salon-de-Provence, from 3pm to 8pm;
  • Avoid the A8 between Italy and Nice, from 4pm to 8pm and between Nice and Aix-en-Provence, from 11am to 6pm;
  • Avoid the A62 between Toulouse and Agen, from 3pm to 8pm.

And for Saturday, Bison Fute said travellers heading on holiday should avoid:

  • travel in Île-de-France after 4pm;
  • the A10, near the Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines toll gate between 7am and 12pm, and between Orléans and Tours from 12pm to 3pm;
  • the A11 between Paris and Le Mans from 11am to 3pm and between Le Mans and Angers from 11am to 1pm;
  • the A84 between Caen and Rennes from 12pm to 4pm;
  • the A63 between Bordeaux and Bayonne from 11am to 1pm;
  • Pass the Fleury toll barrier on the A6 after 1pm;
  • the A7 between Lyon and Orange from 7am to 9pm, and between Salon-de-Provence and Marseille, from 10am to 9pm;
  • the A62 between Agen and Toulouse from 11am to 2pm;
  • the A61 motorway, between Toulouse and Narbonne from 10am to 2pm;
  • The Mont-Blanc tunnel (N205) heading towards Italy from 3pm to 6pm.

Those heading the other way on Saturday are advised to:

  • avoid the A10 between Bordeaux and Saintes from 11am to 1pm;
  • avoid the A7 between Marseille and Salon-de-Provence from 10am to 3pm, and between Orange and Lyon from 10am to 6pm;
  • avoid the A8 between Nice and Aix-en-Provence from 10am to 3pm;
  • avoid the A62 between Toulouse and Agen from 10am to 2pm.

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How Brexit and Covid have derailed Eurostar services between France and UK

The French boss of Eurostar has laid out how the combination of the pandemic, Brexit and ongoing uncertainty over new EU travel rules have left the company in a very precarious position.

How Brexit and Covid have derailed Eurostar services between France and UK

The Eurostar CEO Jacques Damas has laid out the company’s woes in a long letter to British MPs, stating that as things stand “Eurostar cannot currently pursue a strategy of volume and growth. We are having to focus on our core routes . . . and to charge higher prices to customers”.

He said that two things have significantly damaged the company – the pandemic (worsened by the fact that the company received no state aid from the UK government) and Brexit which has made travel between France and the UK considerably more complicated with more checks required at stations.

Damas said that peak capacity at both London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord is 30 percent less than it was pre-Brexit, because of the increased infrastructure needed to check and stamp the passports of travellers.

He said: “Even with all booths manned, St Pancras can only process a maximum of 1,500 passengers per hour, against 2,200 in 2019.

“It is only the fact that Eurostar has capacity-limited trains and significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels, that we are not seeing daily queues in the centre of London similar to those experienced in the Channel ports.

“This situation has obvious commercial consequences and is not sustainable in the mid to long-term.”

He added that the increased passport checks and stamping needed since Brexit adds at least 15 seconds to each passenger’s processing time, and that automated passport gates are less efficient.

The other factor that has hit the company hard was the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, leading to revenues being cut by 95 percent for 15 months.

The London-based company struggled to access government financial aid due to its ownership structure, with both the British and French governments reluctant to assume sole responsibility for bailing out the company.

It began as a joint venture between the British and French governments, but then the British sold off its share to private investors.

Damas said: “Contrary to the £7 billion in state aid given to our airline competitors, Eurostar did not receive any state-backed loans”. 

By May 2021 the company was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and was eventually bailed out to the tune of €290 million in loans and shareholder-guaranteed loans and equity – although this saved the company it has now left it with huge debts to be repaid.

The CEO’s letter was responding to questions from British MPs on the Transport Select Committee who wanted to know when trains would again stop at Ashford station – which has been closed since March 2020. Damas said there was no immediate prospect of that, or of reinstating the route to Disneyland Paris, while the company grapples with these financial problems.

He added that there is also “considerable uncertainty” around the new EU travel systems known as the EES and ETIAS, which are due to come into effect in 2023 and which will require extra checking of passports at the EU’s external borders – such as the UK/France border. 

READ ALSO Fears of ‘massive travel disruption’ in 2023

Many Eurostar passengers have commented recently on increased ticket prices, and it seems that there is little immediate prospect of prices going back down to 2019 levels.