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France to relax coach travel rules

Economy minister hopes new domestic coach links will create jobs and offer cheaper alternative to train

TRAVELLING across France by coach is set to become easier after the government announced plans to scrap the restrictions that currently apply.

Economy minister Emmanuel Macron says liberalising coach travel will offer more competition, lower prices and create jobs.

Under the current rules, operators such as Eurolines, Megabus and the SNCF's idBus can offer France-only rides, but only on an existing international route.

For example, it is possible to buy a ticket from Paris to Perpignan, travelling on the bus that continues to Barcelona, or from Paris to Lyon on the Turin bus.

However, tickets cannot be sold where the departure and arrival points are in the same region - and domestic travel must account for less than 50% of the passengers on-board and 50% of the route's turnover.

The director of idBus has described the rules as "an enormous constraint, which forces us to turn passengers away even when there are empty seats".

With these restrictions, it is estimated that 100,000 coach journeys are made each year within France, compared with 30 million in the UK. Coach travel in Germany has grown by 180 per cent since the rules there were relaxed last year.

The French competition authority recommended relaxing the rules in February. It estimates that the move could create 10,000 jobs by 2020 and offer more choice to travellers.

Macron said: "A lot of French people are too poor to take the train, which is too expensive. Coach travel can be eight to 10 times cheaper. This liberalisation will benefit families with modest incomes."

However, if the law is passed, journeys of less than 200km would still be regulated to protect local TER train services, which are financed by regional councils.

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