Parlez-vous anglais?

Provence & Côte d’Azur: France falls to last place in Europe:

Europe as whole may be moving towards better English language proficiency, but France is on an entirely different trajectory, says Education First. The latest figures from the international education organisation have revealed a trend of steadily declining skills in English among the French, with countries such as China, Russia and neighbour Italy moving ahead of the population when it comes to the anglophone mother tongue.

Education First’s 2013 report blamed cultural and educational factors for France’s poor rating

Over the last 12 months, Education First has complied information on 60 countries worldwide. Interviewing some 750,000 adults and matching the data with statistics from the previous five years, the study highlights the evolution of English language proficiency through balancing up the impact of English among national workforces and economic outlook.

France has come a lowly 35th place, with neighbouring nations Belgium (13th), Germany (14th), Switzerland (16th), Spain (23rd) and Italy (32nd) surpassing the country in terms of English language abilities.

The French nation was given a ‘low proficiency’ marker and a 50.53 score, dropping 2.63 points on the figures from 2012. Education First says, “While the rest of Europe is already proficient in English or steadily working towards that goal, France is on an entirely different trajectory. France currently has the weakest English skills in Europe.”

The study, released on 5th November, has pointed the finger at a range cultural and education related factors, saying, “In France, English is still often seen as a threat to French.” Low exposure to English in the media and the school system were both blamed by the study and its respondents.

Elsewhere in the report, eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary and Slovenia have witnessed a surge in English language proficiency over the last year, with all three making it into the top 10.

Turkey saw the biggest improvement, but remained in the lower echelons of territories included in the study (41th). An additional seven nations joined the ranking table in the 2013 report: Estonia (4th), Slovenia (10th), Latvia (15th), Ukraine (27th), Sri Lanka (30th), Jordan (50th), and Iraq (60th).

Source/Credit: Elsa Carpenter for The Riviera Times


Rail workers strike started today in France

While air traffic controllers ended their strike today morning in France, rail workers started their own. Employees of the French railway network (SNCF) announced a walkout that will last from Wednesday, June 12, 19:00 CET to Friday, June 14, 08:00 CET. Rail traffic will be partially disrupted on the network during the strike, with only 40% of the internal lines circulating on Thursday. It’s expected that half of trains to Switzerland and one-third of the trains to Italy will operate as normal. The Eurostar linking Paris and London, the Thalys to Amsterdam and Brussels and Alléo trains to Germany will provide a normal service.

The rail workers are protesting against proposed reform of the railway system: the government is planning to divide the endebted SNCF into three divisions, which rail employees say would lead to the collapse of the railway system.
150, 000 people are employed by SNCF in France, a country in which 15,000 trains circulate every day.

Source:  Euro News

I Go, You Go, Oui-go !

Provence & Côte d’Azur: The notoriously pricy TGV introduces Ouigo – a low cost alternative to compete with low-cost airlines

French railway giant SNCF has entered the budget travel market, promising high speed travel between Provence and Paris for as little as 10 euros. The all-new TGV Ouigo mimics that of most no-frills services – bag limits, no refunds and no meal options.

A trip on the famously fast TGV could now cost as little as 10 euros

“This new offer is for the four million French people who live outside Paris and who are more inclined to take their car rather than the train,” said the president of the SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, while presenting the TGV Ouigo service in Marne la Vallée in east Paris.

The first budget trains will depart from Marne on 2nd April, before reaching Marseille and Montpellier via Lyon Saint Exupéry. A total of three round-trip journeys will take place each weekday and five journeys will be available on weekends. By cutting the option of first class travel, each train will have the capacity to carry 1,268 passengers per week – 20 per cent more than an ordinary TGV train.

And class division is not the only luxury to be sacrificed for efficiency. No buffet service will be available and passengers will not be allowed to lug unlimited amounts of baggage aboard the train. They will be entitled to one free suitcase and one piece of hand luggage, but any extra will cost five euros. Clients in need of a powerpoint will also have to cough up two euros. But the general director of SNCF Voyages, Barbara Dalibard, explains that the money has to come from somewhere. “We have to diminish our production costs by 30 per cent,” she said to the AFP.

There is also no room for disorganisation on the TGV Ouigo – passengers will have to make their bookings at least four hours before travel. “To speed up boarding and guarantee comfort,” they must also arrive at the station at least 30 minutes early. For the association of railway passengers AVUC, these issues are not being addressed by the company. “The SNCF only seems to be communicating the price of travel, but it eludes the subject of inconvenience. For example, it will be impossible to get a refund, even for good reasons,” explained an anonymous spokesperson to the AFP.

But for frequent travellers and families on a budget, the benefits appear to outweigh the costs. Tariffs for children are fixed at a meagre 10 euros, while a 20 euro ‘mini-group’ fare is available for four to eight passengers travelling together.

The general price of a TGV Ouigo train ticket will cost between 10 and 85 euros – while ordinary TGV fares from the south of France to Paris often exceed 100 euros. With Air France and easyJet offering budget airfares, SNCF have been forced to crank down its costs.

The federation of transport users (FNAUT) is hoping that the offer will ultimately expand to provide a similar service with intercity trains. Ouigo passengers headed to Paris will have to take a bus or train from Marne in the eastern part of the city to reach their final destination, while Marseille is the only Azurean city to welcome the service.

But despite its limitations, the TVG Ouigo is a breakthrough in railway transport. “Accessible high speed trains correspond to a new SNCF committment to provide travel for all,” said the SNCF president. The first 400,000 tickets on sale each year will cost 10 euros, while the next million will cost 25 euros.

TGV Ouigo website.

Credit: Isabelle Younane in The Riviera Times

Cheaper fares to fill the trains

Société nationale des chemins de fer français (Wikipedia photo)

France’s public train transportationsystem is comprehensive, on time (generally), relatively inexpensive and easy to use. I have always wondered why the U.S. hasn’t yet gotten on-board (pardon the pun) to offer the public an efficient, expansive rail alternative to driving.

As reported recently in The Connexion newspaper  “Cheaper fares, better discount cards and low-cost TGV tickets are part of a new SNCF campaign to get more people to take the train.
The state-owned rail firm will also hire 40,000 new staff before 2017, with 10,000 of them this year.

Rail travellers have long complained about high SNCF fares and the company has reacted with new offers, including a million under-€25 tickets each year on the Paris-Lyon-Marseille-Montpellier route.

And the company has taken a page out of Ryanair’s book by launching low-cost TGV services – labelled TGV éco – which use basic no-frills, single-class trains serving out-of-the way stations. Just as Ryanair uses Charleroi for Brussels, SNCF has Marne-La-Vallée for Paris as the costs for using the station are less than for Gare de l’Est or similar in the capital.

Today SNCF also launches a new range of young people’s discount cards, targeting the 12-17 and 18-27 age groups. The old 18-25 card has been dumped and the new ones offer similar reductions, ranging from 25% to 60% discount. The card costs €50 for a year.

People who buy in advance will also benefit from the cheapest tickets but the 18-27 card will also give access to cheap last-minute tickets – with 10,000 available each month.

Families get help, too, with the €75 Enfant+ card giving reductions of between 25% and 50% for a child of up to 12 and four others in the party.

The over-60s can get a €65 Senior+ card that gives a 40% reduction in first class, against today’s 25%. It is valid on all trains at all times, said Voyages SNCF director-general Barbara Dalibard.

Company president Guillaume Pépy said it would hire 500 non-qualified young people under the government’s “jobs for the future” scheme before the end of the year. They would be employed in customer service, track maintenance and cleaning, tourist welcome and digital technology.

The company will also take on 40,000 new staff up to 2017, in part to compensate for retirements but also to cope with new passengers switching from car travel.” ###

 Montons à bord!