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Strikes, Eurostar offer, Brittany Ferries: Eight French travel updates

We also look at new UK/US flights to France, motorway charging points and two proposed rail services set to make city commutes easier 

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week Pic: Hadrian / EQRoy / Kevin Shipp / Nick Starichenko / Shutterstock

UK and French governments warn of travel disruption ahead of new March strike action

Both the UK Foreign Office and France’s transport minister are advising against all but essential travel to and within France on March 7 – the next date for pension reform walk-outs.

Unions have threatened ‘to bring France to a standstill’ over President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to increase the retirement age by two years to 64.

Read more: French unions unfazed by low protest turnout, all hopes on March 7

The UK Foreign Office (FCDO) warns: “Industrial action may start the evening before a strike day and run until the morning after.

“Localised or sector-specific strikes could also occur outside these dates. Industrial action may lead to disruption to services.”

It advises checking the latest advice with operators before travelling, avoiding demonstrations and following advice from local authorities.

In France itself, Transport Minister Clément Beaune has also warned people to avoid public transport on that day.

Talking to Sud Radio this week (February 21), he advised travellers to work from home if possible and to postpone any planned trips.

However, he added that the percentage of RATP and SNCF staff joining in the strikes will not necessarily correspond to the proportion of metro, bus and train services cancelled on March 7 “because there are people who volunteer to work to help ensure these public services”.

Meanwhile, another walk-out by UK Border Force officers is scheduled for March 15, following four days of industrial action last week (February 17-20).

Read more: France-UK ferry travellers told to expect disruption later this month

Workers are protesting about pay, pensions, job security and redundancy terms, with the latest strike set to coincide with the UK Budget.

Thousands of inbound UK flights could be affected. According to aviation data analysts at Cirium, some 2,125 flights are scheduled to arrive at UK airports on March 15.

€100bn railway investment before 2040, including for Macron’s ‘metropolitan RER’ commuter project

President Emmanuel Macron’s ambition to transform rail infrastructure in cities could take a step forward today (February 24) as his prime minister endorses a €100billion investment in the railways between now and 2040.

In November, the president took to YouTube to announce regional rail projects in 10 French cities which will bring them up to speed with the linked-up transport system which exists in Paris and its suburbs, known as the RER.

Read more: Macron announces RER commuter train project for 10 French cities

And today Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is set to give the green light to a finance package that could underpin the project, based on recommendations in a report by the Conseil d'orientation des infrastructures.

The €100billion investment could see state rail operator SNCF receive an extra €1billion each year, on top of the €2.8billion it currently gets.

Local authorities, the European Union, operators and investors will also be expected to shoulder some of the costs.

Transport Minister Clément Beaune has already hailed the finance package “a historic investment” on Twitter.

It is part of long-term plans to move France’s transport network to a more environmentally friendly future, broadly summarised by the Prime Minister’s office as "more rail, less road".

The government wants to have a precise plan for transport infrastructure investments by June, after discussing it further with the regions and partners concerned in March.

25% off Eurostar promotion ends tomorrow

Readers have until midnight tomorrow (February 25) to take advantage of a Eurostar offer giving 25% off the price of return tickets from Paris or Lille to London in March.

The discount, which can be obtained using the code LONDRESOKLM on the Eurostar website, is valid for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between March 7 and 29 inclusive.

You can also redeem it by quoting the code by telephone to the Eurostar contact centre, or in Eurostar sales areas (London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord) when purchasing Eurostar train tickets.

It applies to Standard and Standard Premier tickets (return only) to/from London St Pancras International, Paris Gare du Nord or Lille Europe stations.

Only one promo code can be used per booking and the discount can only be applied to bookings made in euros.

It can be used in conjunction with e-vouchers and, for Eurostar Club members, with any points accrued.

Despite being a promotional fare, the tickets are still flexible, with no exchange fees up to seven days before departure.

No foot passengers on newly relaunched Portsmouth-LeHavre ferry service 

Brittany Ferries’ Portsmouth-Le Havre ferry service, which resumes next month (March 1) after being paused during the pandemic, will exclude foot passengers.

Since Covid, the service has only been carrying freight and its relaunch for tourists will cater solely for those in vehicles.

Foot passengers must instead travel to Ouistreham to make the connection.

Brittany Ferries’ managing director, Christophe Matthieu, told FranceInfo the decision was taken largely for financial reasons.

“To optimise the ship's economy, we prefer to take those who have a car because they pay more. If we take foot passengers, we also have additional processing costs because we need dedicated staff.”

Read more: Holiday traffic, ferry plans, new flights: 9 French travel updates

He also cited safety as a reason for keeping passenger numbers low. The service is using the freight ship Le Cotentin, which has been specially renovated to accommodate passengers but is still under technical restrictions as to how many people it can safely carry.

Mr Matthieu said the decision could be reviewed in future: “If there is a demand for tourists without a car, we will see how to adapt.”

End of pound sterling pricing aboard Brittany Ferries

From March 1, the prices for products and services sold on board Brittany Ferries’ fleet of 10 ships will be displayed in euros only.

Until now, the ferry company has had dual pricing in its restaurants, shops and at all other places where passengers pay for goods and services on board.

However, it says that over the years the process of including pound sterling as a dual currency has proved costly and difficult to manage.

It also points out that the majority of Brittany Ferries’ goods and services are paid for in euros and that three of the four countries in which it operates (France, Ireland and Spain) use the currency.

“This year we must start to repay the multi-million euro loans that have carried us through the Covid crisis,” a FAQs page on its website states.

Read more: Brittany Ferries reports better year after 'ghastly' Covid period

“Standardising currency on board is one of a number of steps that will help us improve efficiency while providing a more consistent service to all passengers.”

It promises that sterling will still be accepted on board, in either cash or by using a bank card. The amount will be calculated at the checkout according to the daily exchange rate quoted by the Banque de France.

However, it warns that passengers who use their card may be charged a transaction fee by their banks.

New motorway charging station heralds ‘beginning of a new era’ 

Transport Minister Clément Beaune has promised that by the end of March all motorway service areas in France will be equipped with charging points for electric vehicles. 

“By July, 100,000 charging points will be deployed on public roads in France,” he added.

His comments came at the official opening of two new ultra-fast charging stations on the A1 motorway on Monday (February 20), and amid growing frustration that France has been too slow in meeting its targets.

Read more: Electric car owners let down by lack of fast chargers in France

The stations – one in either direction – at Vémars (Val-d'Oise) near Charles de Gaulle airport were delivered by Dutch operator Fastned. 

Boasting 16 electric charging points, they are the firm’s largest stations in Europe, designed to accommodate around 1,000 motorists a day.

However, Fastned anticipates only about 10 users per day at the start, increasing on weekends and during holidays.

The 300kW charging points promise 80% recharging in 20 minutes for about €30 depending on the car model.

"This is the beginning of a new era for the motorway," said Arnaud Quémard, managing director of the Sanef group, who was also present at the opening ceremony.

Read more: Independent French garages get aid to install electric charge points

The stations are based at a strategic point on France’s motorway network. The A1 is one of the busiest roads in Europe, with not only French drivers, but also Dutch and Belgian tourists driving down to the south.

Rail start-up promises ‘TGV version of the RER’ with fast, cheap service between cities

City-to-city routes “based on ease and speed”  – that is the dream of a French rail start-up looking to take on state operator SNCF by 2026.

The firm takes its name, Kevin Speed, from what was once the most common boy’s name in France and it is hoping to popularise rail travel in the same way.

Its founder, Laurent Fortune, told Le Parisien he wants to create a "TGV version of the RER", with a business model based on frequent, fast return trips luring high passenger numbers.

Read more: Greener, faster, higher capacities: see new French TGV being tested

One way he anticipates getting customers is through attractive pricing – the example given is a €5 Paris-Lille ticket.

The services, he says, would be targeted at commuters, especially those who have moved out of cities after Covid but who still have to visit the office.

Another stated aim is to avoid the closure of small stations in more rural areas. 

The trains would travel at more than 300km/h with frequent stops and departures approximately every hour.

These stops would be shorter than those of the TGV (one or two minutes at most), made possible by using trains with more doors so it is easier to get on and off.

"Everything is based on ease and speed," Mr Fortune told the newspaper.

The former development director at RATP hopes to launch the services in 2026 or 2027, but the project is still very much in its early stages.

He is in discussion with SNCF over possible train paths, eyeing three lines and about 20 trains to start with, and also looking for investment to cover the estimated €1billion needed to get the initiative going.

Birmingham and Cannes Film Festival service among new flights from Nice

Nice airport’s summer schedule of flights, revealed this week (February 20), includes a new Jet2 service to Birmingham.

The UK city is one of eight new destinations being offered from the Côte d'Azur hub.

Others include Bari (easyJet), Brussels-Charleroi (Volotea), Valetta (Air Malta), Paris-Beauvais (easyJet) and Atlanta (Delta Airlines).

The Atlanta offering is among a growing number of North American flights taking off from the airport – it already has links to Montreal and New York.

Read more: Dover border control boost, new UK, US flights: France travel update

Meanwhile, a special Los Angeles route will be launched to coincide with the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Air France, an official partner of the festival, will operate two direct flights to Nice on May 15 and 22. A return flight back to Los Angeles is scheduled for May 29.

Read more: Why Americans are choosing Air France flights over US airlines

Air France will also operate four flights between New York JFK and Nice to coincide with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, taking place between June 19 and 23.

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