France is introducing a €49 monthly rail pass from summer 2024, available to all.
Giving holders unlimited travel on both regional and intercity trains, the pass is designed to be “simple”, said Transport Minister Clément Beaune.
“French people – irrespective of their age – can buy this pass and have unlimited travel on an intercity or TER for a flat inexpensive price,” he announced on France 2 television.
Beaune acknowledged the move rides the wave of other European public transport deals, such as those in Germany and Portugal, which have widely been seen as popular and successful, describing them as the “ideal . . . to encourage train use”. Or, as Macron said on Monday, to encourage people to “get out of coal and oil.”
What do you get for your money?
For a €49 monthly subscription, pass holders get unlimited travel on TER regional trains and intercity trains, but not TGV (very high speed trains).
TER regional trains connect “local destinations within French regions” as Euronews puts it, carrying around 1.1 million passengers per day. Frequent journeys or commutes on even the lower-priced routes (e.g. under €20) can quickly add up and make a monthly pass worthwhile.
Meanwhile intercity trains serve cities and longer routes, such as Paris to Toulouse, for which a same-day ticket purchase would cost nearly twice the cost of the pass.
In addition, Beaune is hopeful the pass will include other forms of local transport such as metros, buses and trams. Details are yet to be decided although, according to Le Monde, Macron confirmed on Monday that “France’s regional authorities had agreed to the move” which, the news outlet notes, “follows limitations on domestic air travel imposed earlier this year.”
Are they worth it?
Germany’s VDV transport association has claimed that the rail pass introduction there saved approximately 1.8 million tonnes of carbon emissions over summer 2023, according to Euronews.
However, while the pass might have good green credentials, questions have been raised over how sustainable its price is. With subsidies coming from both the German state and its regions, the scheme is estimated to be costing €3 billion annually up until 2025. Transport chiefs have warned that the “biggest public transport reform in German history” would likely entail price increases from as early as New Year 2024.
Similar concerns are spreading in the transport industry in France. Franck Dhersin, vice-president in charge of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, was reported by Le Monde as saying ‘that while the “president often has good ideas… It’s your idea and you can finance it.”’