INTERVIEW. Train ticket prices: “If you book the train at the same time as everyone else, it’s expensive”

the essential
Single tariff, competition, promotions, low cost: can the changes and innovations which, in France or elsewhere, agitate the railway sector have a beneficial effect on prices? Interview with Patricia Pérennes, economist, specialist in transport economics.

Is the train expensive?

In France, the price of a long-distance ticket varies from one to another depending on when you book. If you can travel earlier, or if you travel during low-traffic times like Tuesdays and Thursdays, it’s a little cheaper. On the other hand if you leave on Saturdays or during school holidays you will pay more, because everyone travels on weekends. However, since the end of Covid, the demand for rail transport has increased tremendously for various reasons. Many trains are fully booked which of course drives up the prices. If you book at the same time as everyone else, it’s expensive.

Have the prices gone up a lot?

Several elements have led to an increase in prices, it is not debatable. This can be explained by the operating cost of the SNCF, but also by the increase in the price of energy. However, this energy is needed in large quantities to run a train. It is therefore not surprising that the price increases at the same time as energy. We also have to take into account the price of the railway toll, which has also risen in recent years. The public tariffs also depend on the type of transport: for TGV, the SNCF sets the price and users pay the full ticket. While TER and Intercités are partly subsidized by the regions. The remainder to be paid is therefore less for the travellers.

A report published by Greenpeace mentions that the train service is lower in other European countries. For what ?

The report mentions Poland among other things. In this country the trains are heavily subsidized and the state invests more to help the operation of the infrastructure and the operator. The ticket price is therefore a little lower. The report also cites the example of Germany. On the other side of the Rhine, the price of the train is always the same and does not vary as in France. Depending on when the simulations were run (by Greenpeace), it is possible that French fares were more expensive than those of the German company.

What could make SNCF fares more attractive to users?

In France, for two years, competition, such as Trenitalia or Renfe, arrives on the market. But the services are only carried out on a few main axes: Paris-Lyon or Marseille-Montpellier. For these major lines, comparators like have actually seen fare drops. On the other hand, for less profitable branch lines, such as Parie-Remiremont, there are no other operators than SNCF. This competition can drive prices down, but only for residents traveling between major cities.

Germany has introduced a single fare for the train. It’s a good idea?

I find the system proposed by Germany interesting: with this single rate of Deutschland ticket TO 49 euros, users can access all trains. If we want to make the train cheaper and more attractive, it is not only by making promotions that not everyone can access due to the limited number of tickets, but above all by selling tickets at reduced prices, for example once a year for paid holidays, so that people are entitled to holidays.

So would it be better to have reduced tickets once or twice a year, rather than regular promotions?

Promotions are made to fill trains that are empty. Rather they benefit travelers who can afford to travel in an unusual way. While there is an unknown fix, the annual leave ticket, which few people use due to the low discount offered. It is, in my opinion, an idea to explore, making a more significant reduction for users. There is also an interesting initiative born in 2021 and which has found its audience: the Pass Jeunes TER. For less than 50 euros it allowed young people to travel throughout the country. But this offer only exists in some regions.

Add a Comment