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!

Nice Train Station Makeover

Beginning January, 2013, the main train station in Nice will be getting a makeover.  The approximately 60 million Euro, new futuristic/modern look will enhance the current station building, which was constructed in the 19th century.

“Nice is connected to the rest of France via the SNCF train network. A direct TGV train from Paris to Nice takes about 6 hours, and on TGVs a reservation is obligatory. The train arrives in Nice at the central station, called simply “Gare Nice Ville” (not to be confused with the stations at the city limits, Nice Riquier and Nice St Augustin). A new service called “IdTGV” is now available: it offers low-cost TGV tickets (starting at just €19 for a single trip between Paris and Nice). These tickets have to be bought online, and are not refundable.” (source: Wikitravel)