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ID, pets and smoking: 7 things French train ticket inspectors can fine you for

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
ID, pets and smoking: 7 things French train ticket inspectors can fine you for
(Photo by Pascal LACHENAUD / AFP)

From sitting in the wrong seat to not having your ID on you, here are a few of the rules you need to know in order to avoid fines from France's ticket inspectors.

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SNCF inspectors on trains in France have something of a ‘jobsworth’ reputation - a recent article in a French newspaper referred to them as 'les cow-boys' and accused them of 'avoir le sang chaud' - ie being hot-blooded or over-enthusiastic.

While it’s true that a minority of railway conductors can seem a little overzealous at times, in most cases they are merely doing their jobs in what can often be difficult circumstances. Anyway, they're nothing like as bad as the Paris Metro ticket inspectors.

SNCF regulations sometimes leave travellers stunned to find themselves fined, often expensively. Here are a few pointers to help you sort out the obligations on board a train and in a station.

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Carry ID when you travel

Conductors rarely ask for identity papers, and usually just scan the ticket, but not being able to show an official document on demand means you could be fined the same amount as if you didn’t have a ticket. 

This is because rail tickets, whether they’re for TGV, Intercités or TER services, are in a person’s name. In the event of an inspection, you may be required to show proof of ID – a photocopy or photo on your mobile phone is not acceptable. 

The same applies to holders of a discount or season ticket, such as the Navigo pass. 

If you're taking a cross-border train you should have your passport or ID card with you. Although document checks within the Schengen zone are not common, they do happen and you will need a valid travel documents - this includes a passport or national ID card, but does not include a driver's licence or carte de séjour.

Don’t use someone else’s ticket

Linked to the above, don’t swap tickets with someone else, even if they can’t travel – just in case you need to show some form of ID.

If you don't have a ticket in your name then you in effect are travelling without a ticket.

Your ticket must be valid for the train you’re using

Don’t try to sneak on an earlier train with a ticket for a later one. In France, a ticket is valid only for the date and time of the train listed on it. If you arrive at the station in time to catch an earlier train, you need to exchange your ticket for the earlier service, or cancel your ticket, get a refund and buy one for the correct service. The same is true if you miss your train, whether it’s your fault or not.

In most regions, TER tickets can be refunded free of charge up to the day before departure, but cannot be exchanged, while a €19 fee applies to TGV ticket exchanges made within six days of departure.

Sit in your assigned a seat

If you are on a train with an assigned seat, use it. One SNCF user took to social media after he was fined €270 for swapping his standard class seat with another user, who had a first class ticket, but wanted to sit with someone who did not. 

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Similar to air travel, in theory, everyone must be seated in their assigned seat on a train in France. You may ask a conductor if you can swap seats, but they are not obliged to say yes.

Smoking is banned on trains and station platforms

It seems like a lot of French train passengers have missed this memo, but smoking is outlawed in “a vehicle or area used for public transport of passengers by rail or guided vehicles”.

That includes the train platform and the station (although in reality you'll often see people hopping off the train for a quick smoke on the platform while a train is in the station).

You can be fined €68 for smoking on a train, or €30 on the platform. Don’t spit on the platform, either – you could cop a €150 fine.

You need a ticket for your pet 

Dogs are allowed on all French trains (apart from the Eurostar), but unless they are registered assistance dogs they will need their own ticket, which costs €7.

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Depending on their size they may need to wear a muzzle. Other pets such as cats can also travel, but need to be in a secure carrier - full details here. If you have a pet snail (and who doesn't?) then it will also need a ticket in order to travel.

And maybe your bike

You can take your bike with you on most types of train, but you may need to reserve a space in advance at a cost of €10. This varies depending on the type of train, with local TER and suburban rail services generally free to take bikes on, while high-speed TGV services may require a reservation. Full details here.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of rules, merely some of the most common reasons that people get fined while travelling on a French train.

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