Covid’s difficult exit from public transport

While the French are beginning to see a real way out of the crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world of urban public transport is not there yet. A new level has even just been crossed. Monday, September 27, Ile-de-France Mobilités (IDFM), the transport organizing authority of the capital region, announced that it had suspended its payments to RATP and SNCF (respectively 300 and 400 million euros each month) , for lack of having reached an agreement with the State, from which it claims 1.3 billion euros to compensate for the losses related to the health crisis in 2021.

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It is not a surprise. The board of directors of IDFM had approved, two weeks ago, the principle of such a suspension if a compromise was not found with the government. This is not a novelty either. Valérie Pécresse, President (Libres!) Of IDFM and the Ile-de-France region, had already, at the end of summer 2020, launched a similar battle with the State, stopping paying public operators until ” that the government ends up giving in and granting 1.45 billion euros in repayable advance and 150 million in subsidies. RATP has let it be known that it “Available[ait] to date sufficient cash to ensure the continuity of the transport offer in the coming weeks, pending the outcome of the discussions between Ile-de-France Mobilités and the State ”.

Attendance rate still declining

The seriousness of the incident – synonymous with a potential stoppage of public transport in the Paris region if negotiations fail – illustrates the persistent difficulties of urban public transport beyond the Ile-de-France case. And this, at a time when the main actors of mobility are preparing to meet at the National Public Transport Meetings (RNTP), the traditional trade fair-forum of the sector which opened its doors in Toulouse on Tuesday, September 28. The event would have something to delight exhibitors (communities, transport operators, equipment manufacturers, start-ups) since it is a return to real contact after eighteen months of crisis.

However, as evidenced by the IDFM episode, the specter of the coronavirus still haunts the area. In mid-September, the frequentation rate in French urban public transport networks reached on average 85% of the level before the crisis. Ile-de-France is the region in greatest difficulty (with only 70% of attendance compared to the situation prior to the crisis and troughs around 55% this summer). Other cities or communities, such as Rennes, Saint-Etienne and Montpellier, with large captive audiences (generally students), are doing better, reaching 90% -95% of pre-pandemic attendance.

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