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SNCF closes 900 counters in France

The closure of 900 railway station booking offices last year has left too many people unable to buy tickets, says one of France’s main passenger bodies.

SNCF must reopen them or find other solutions, says the National Federation of Transport User Associations (FNAUT).

It said counter closures had mostly affected rural stations but Paris’s stations had experienced two-hour queues last summer.

SNCF said the move to booking via apps or online meant counter staff were often under-employed.

However, many passengers, including some who have recounted their experiences in  our letters pages, experienced difficulty buying with smartphones, especially as the SNCF technology does not run on older models of phone.

Also many stations have no wifi signal, meaning people with laptops cannot connect.

FNAUT president Bruno Gazeau said: “We estimate that a third of our members are unable to buy tickets online.

“Either they have the wrong smartphone, or none at all, have no internet access, or have special requirements, like wanting to pay using travel vouchers.”

The new head of SNCF, Jean-Pierre Farandou, has promised new measures to ensure queues for ticket counters are never longer than half an hour, but Mr Gazeau said his association does not think this is sufficient, especially in stations without staff.

“There has to be a drive to make it easy to buy tickets in cafés and tabacs,” he said. “It is often talked about but seldom implemented.

“The government, must put pressure on SNCF or it will see people remain angry that a good system has declined.”

SNCF denied technical issues. A spokeswoman told Connexion the company’s app was compatible with iPhones using software that came out in 2016 and with Android phone software from 2013.

She said all SNCF stations had free wifi connection, which showed as SNCF gare-gratuit and opens automatically if tapped.

“We have gained 15million passengers in 2019 through the low-cost offers on Ouigo, which we can only make using digital ticket technology,” she said.

Ouigo is a low-cost high-speed service offering long-distance services on core routes, albeit mostly between secondary stations.

“There is also the mixed offer TGV Inoui, with ‘comfort, services and connectivity’, which has 95% satisfaction,” she added.

This is SNCF’s premium high-speed service, offering some budget rail tickets.

She said counters were being used less and less.

“When the lease on ticket offices is due to be renewed, especially outside the big stations, we look at performance to see if we keep it.”


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