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French national rail service to begin phasing out paper tickets

The Local France
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French national rail service to begin phasing out paper tickets
A passengers punches a ticket at Gare de Lyon train station in Paris (Photo by Jacques DEMARTHON / AFP)

France's national rail line announced on Friday that it would begin gradually phasing out paper ticket-punching machines, which have been a part of train travel in France for decades, as more customers opt for e-tickets.

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It is the end of an era for these yellow machines that been a part of rail travel for people in France for decades. As more travellers opt for digital tickets, France's national rail service, SNCF, said they would be retiring thousands of ticketing machines -  which have been used for decades to punch holes in paper tickets - this year.

SNCF told BFMTV on Friday that they planned to decommission at least 3,000 of these devices in 2023, as the vast majority of customers now use digital tickets.

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"More than 99 percent of TGV and Intercité train tickets are now digital. On the TER (regional train services), only four percent of tickets still need to be stamped," the SNCF representative told BFMTV.

With less people using the ageing ticketing machines, the rail service said that they have come to present a "significant maintenance burden" each year.

The rail service said that phasing out the ticket machines would improve and simplify the customer experience, offering a "smoother journey and an end to stamping errors."

How will the transition work?

As a result, SNCF will gradually take the kiosks out of service - this year, 725 machines servicing TGV and Intercity trains will be decommissioned, in addition to 2,468 machines for TER trains. France's national rail service will also slowly stop providing the card-stock paper tickets that would have needed to be punched by the ticket machines.

Customers should keep in mind that this will affect specifically the tickets that would have needed to be punched to board the train - passengers who prefer to print their digital tickets will still be able to do so. 

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And for the few customers who still use the paper tickets, who do not have access to e-tickets, these passengers will still be able to continue doing so. Though, they will have to present their ticket to the conductor for validation when entering the train.

"If the customer does not present himself to the conductor, they will be reminded to do so when the conductor comes through to check tickets in the train cars," the SNCF representative told BFMTV.

SNCF also said they would be placing informative fliers on the kiosks starting in January to inform customers of the change, in order to help avoid any misunderstanding or surprise. 

A relic from a previous age

The kiosks, once orange in the 1980s, were replaced by yellow electronic models in the 2000s. Before boarding their train, passengers had to insert their paper ticket, stamp and show it to the conductor.

Originally, tickets were often valid for a two-month period, so passengers needed to get them punched to show that they did not take several trips using the same ticket. 

The current generation of train tickets are (mostly) valid for one specific date and time of travel, so the need to stamp them in order to prove they have not been used several times has become obsolete. 

As France pushes forward in its "ecological transition," the country has made significant efforts to put more processes online. SNCF is also not the only train service to move toward electronic ticketing - the Paris metro system began phasing out carnets in October.

More stations have stopped selling the carnets - or packs of 10 paper tickets - and  offered at a reduced price wanted the pack of 10 tickets known as "carnets" to be gone by the first quarter of this year. The head of Ile-de-France Mobilites told AFP that he expected the carnets would be "completely gone" sometime in 2023.

While the carnets are being phased out, the Paris metro still accepts and sells paper tickets.

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