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Planes, trains, Eurotunnel, métro: nine France travel updates

British holiday-makers race to France, SNCF reviews payment by instalments, new French air routes and could Paris get a congestion charge?

We look at some of the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week Pic: Yaya Photos / PippiLongstocking / Ioan Panaite / Kaka Skokanova / Shutterstock

We look at some of the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week. 

This week, perhaps the most significant piece of news is that France has removed pre-departure testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers. 

This means that such people coming to the country from the UK or US, for example, need only show proof of vaccination and a sworn statement confirming that they are not experiencing Covid symptoms. 

Read more: France ends pre-departure Covid test for all fully jabbed travellers

Read more: Covid: 26 more countries added to France’s green list for travel

1. SNCF to propose new instalment payment system amid cost of living crisis

SNCF may be preparing to launch a new payment by instalments system which will enable people who have been hit hard by recent increases in the cost of living to spread the cost of a train ticket over several months, Le Parisien reports. 

It is possible that the rail operator has already begun searching for a financial service partner to operate the system, which would aim to encourage families to use the train and not the car to travel to holiday destinations.

SNCF has not officially confirmed this initiative but said that it “continues to work on good ideas which will help to facilitate access for all train passengers, including through payment methods.” 

It added that payment by instalments could be “an interesting avenue for some of our customers,” but that it would take until the end of the year for such a system to be put in place.

2. Paris rated in top five most dangerous cities for solo female travellers 

Paris – the second most visited city in the world – has ranked among the five least secure cities in the world for solo female travellers in a study carried out by insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip. 

The city scored low (4/10) when it came to ‘feeling safe walking home at night’ and in relation to gender-based attacks. Solo tourists are also considered easy targets for pickpockets. 

Of all the cities included in the study, Medina (Saudi Arabia) was rated safest for female travellers, with Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Dubai coming in second and third place. Kyoto (Japan) and Macao (China) were also rated as being very safe.

In Europe, Madrid, Munich and Lisbon were classed as being the best cities for solo female travellers to visit. 

Johannesburg came bottom of the list, making it the least safe city for female travellers according to the study. The city’s because high crime rates and dim street lighting contribute to a sense of unease among female travellers, especially at night.

Kuala Lumpur, Delhi and Jakarta also came in the bottom five. 

3. Volotea establishes Lille Airport base 

Low-cost airline Volotea is set to open a new airport base in Lille on April 1. 

The company has already announced nine French routes – to Ajaccio, Bastia, Figari, Perpignan, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Nantes, Nice and Toulouse – and one Italian route to Cagliari (Sardinia) from its new base. 

However, five additional international routes are expected to be announced shortly. 

Flights to Volotea’s French destinations will depart from Lille up to six times a week, and passengers will be able to fly to Cagliari once a week from June 2.

Volotea has been offering flights from Lille to Biarritz, Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca since 2012.

4. British holidaymakers arrive at Eurotunnel in their droves for French half-term breaks

With half-term underway in the UK this week, the number of British holidaymakers heading to the Eurotunnel for holidays in France has surged, fuelled by France’s decision to remove pre-departure testing requirements for the vaccinated. 

Between Friday (February 11) and Sunday (February 13), 17,000 cars and 50,000 passengers travelled on the Eurotunnel shuttles, and on Friday the company’s Flexiplus tariff recorded its best performance since Covid began.

5. New Nantes and Nice air routes announced 

Greek airline Sky Express will launch a Nantes-Heraklion route on April 9, offering passengers one weekly flight on Sundays. 

From June 2 until October 29, flight frequency will increase to two per week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. 

Ticket sales for the summer season are already open for passengers planning their holidays.

Air France has also started selling tickets for summer journeys between Heathrow and Nice, which will run from July until August 28. 

6. Bordeaux-Toulouse high-speed line project goes before Conseil d’État 

France’s Conseil d’État has this week been examining the financial plans for the Grand projet ferroviaire du Sud-Ouest (GPSO), which will see a high-speed LGV (ligne à grande vitesse) train line built between Bordeaux and Toulouse. 

The Conseil d’État is a governmental body which advises the executive branch on legal matters and acts as the supreme court for administrative justice.

The GPSO, for which an estimated €14.3billion of funding has now been raised, will connect Bordeaux to Toulouse in one hour and five minutes, therefore linking Paris up to Toulouse in just over three hours. It should be in operation by 2030.

There will also be a train line running between Bordeaux and Spain, which will split off from the Toulouse route after 55km. Trains will be able to reach 320km/h on the line.

Funding has come from the State, the EU and the regional authorities of Occitanie and Nouvelle-Aquitaine, who have been discussing the project since 2005. 

Certain local authorities in Nouvelle-Aquitaine – including Gironde and Lot-et-Garonne – refused to contribute the sums asked of them, and so the regional council was forced to provide the remaining €225million earlier this month.

The GPSO should directly create 4,000 jobs, as well as 6,000 indirectly related jobs. 

Concerns over climate change have been a driving factor in the inception of the project, and it is hoped that the LGV will eventually be ten times less polluting that a car journey and 32 times less than a plane journey.

However, its opponents claim that the train line will in fact be harmful to the environment, as it cuts 1,240 hectares of farm land and 2,865 hectares of forest out of the landscape.

In Landes, for example, work on the line would threaten the Vallon du Cros area, where around 20 rare bat species go to breed. 

Local residents are also concerned about the visual and noise impact that the project could have on their area. 

7. French Court of Audit suggests that drivers could help fund Paris public transport system improvements

France’s Cour des Comptes (Court of Audit) has suggested that drivers in Paris could help to plug the financial gap left by falling public transport passenger numbers over the course of the pandemic. 

La Cour des Comptes is the supreme body for auditing the use of public funds in France, and is independent from the government. It publishes a public spending report each year. 

Read more: France has ‘worst public finance situation’ in Eurozone due to Covid

Paris’ public transport provider RATP has estimated that by 2023-4, passenger numbers on trains and buses will still be 10% lower than in 2019, even three years after the pandemic began. 

The court stated that people who drive around the Paris region could also be made to contribute to the public transport network through a type of urban toll. 

The Cour des Comptes also suggested that an increased Navigo pass price would help operators to fund the “substantial extensions to the network, which are both in progress and scheduled for the future, and subsequent improvements to the quality of the service.”

Another option would be to increase the financial contribution of the local authorities which will benefit from the extension of the city’s public transport network.

8. Transport Minister wants SNCF Connect bugs solved ‘as soon as possible’

France’s Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari has told SNCF to address issues with its Connect app “as soon as possible”, following repeated reports of passengers being unable to properly plan their journeys through the platform.

“What I told SNCF is that this transition to the Connect app, which does indeed offer many more functionalities, was necessary. However, there are bugs that need to be resolved as soon as possible,” Mr Djebbari told CNEWS. 

Read more: We try out SNCF's new app for French train tickets and traffic updates

A few days before, SNCF’s CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou had promised that improvements would be made before the end of March. 

Mr Djebbari also conceded that: “It is a transition: all transitions are complicated at times.” 

9. Holiday destinations relax travel rules for visitors to and from France 

Destinations including Tunisia and Réunion have relaxed their travel rules for trips to and from France. 

People travelling to Tunisia from France will no longer have to present a negative test result if they are fully vaccinated. 

Unvaccinated people over the age of six must still take a PCR test in the 48 hours before or an antigen test in the 24 hours before they travel, and show the negative result to travel authorities. 

Everyone must fill in an online form with their details before they travel. 

The prefecture of the overseas department of Réunion has announced that vaccinated travellers going to metropolitan France no longer need to carry out a pre-departure test either. 

However, anyone travelling from metropolitan France to Réunion must have a negative PCR or antigen test result from the last 24 hours.

Unvaccinated travellers over the age of 18 must also have an essential reason for travel, and must self-isolate for seven days on arrival.

Read more: 41 countries now require Covid insurance for travellers from France

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