A rebrand of the TGV service as ‘inOui’, starting this summer, has had mixed reactions, including some mockery and parodies from those who doubted it would catch on.
Mr Vicherat, who is responsible for it, studied alongside President Macron at the prestigious ENA grande école and his last job was as head of the office of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. The new name for the TGV service sounds like inouï, meaning ‘extraordinary’ (literally, ‘unheard of’) and it ties in with some other recent branding such as a long-distance bus service called Ouibus (formally iDBUS) or a budget train service called Ouigo.
Was the TGV rebrand as ‘inOui’ your idea?
It was the customers’ idea – because we did market research with focus groups of customers – once we explained to them what the service was about. It’s still a TGV, it’s called TGV inOui, but the idea is to simplify the offer to the customers. So firstly there’s the low-cost service with Ouigo, which represents 5% of the high-speed offer at the moment, and will represent 25% by 2020. Alongside this we wanted to have a premium-but-affordable service, which corresponds to criteria including wifi on board, new trains and liveries, or fully renovated and upgraded ones, and a better service on board with staff trained to, for example, find you a taxi or the best connecting trains. The staff on board will no longer be checking tickets – because that will be done via new automatic gates on the platforms – so they can focus on service.
InOui will start with 16 Paris-Bordeaux trains in July and progressively we will have 30% of the high-speed services by the end of the year and by the end of 2020 all of the service apart from Ouigo will have this label.
In total we have budgeted €2.5bn for these improvements.
So, is the idea of using ‘oui’ because it sounds positive?
Yes, the image our customers have of Ouibus, OuiCar and Ouigo is very positive. For example 93% of people report being satisfied with the Ouigo service. So the associations are very positive for the customers and it’s about expanding the ‘oui’ concept to our premium high-speed services.
And so it lives up to the name you will make efforts for it to be a really good, high quality experience?
Your iDTGV service is coming to an end?
Yes, the idea is to tidy things up and have fewer offers, but a range that is easier to understand. The tariffs that were offered for iDTGV Max, or TGV Max for young people [low-cost monthly subscription deals], will continue to exist as agreed with the users for now, but the idea eventually is to simply have inOui and Ouigo. For example, if you can reserve in good time and you are not too bothered about what services you have on board, you don’t mind if there is no buffet car or extra luggage space etc, you might want to go for Ouigo. Overall we hope by 2020 to have 15 million more travellers using the TGV.
This summer you also have two new high-speed services starting – TGV Océane and TGV Ouest?
Yes, they start on July 2 – a Paris-Bordeaux service in two hours, more than an hour faster than before. And a Paris-Rennes in 1hr23mins, gaining more than half an hour. These are our ninth and 10th LGVs [purpose-built fast TGV lines] in our history, since 1981, and they are very important to us. Our aim is to compete with the airlines, notably on the Paris-Bordeaux route. We think that in going down to two hours we offer a more competitive service, notably because you have no break in your journey.
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Your reservation site is going to change this year too?
sncf-voyages.com will become oui.sncf in November, with new services. For example a ‘bargain price hunter’ that helps you, if you are not too limited in your dates and times, to find the lowest-possible journey price. You will also have more ‘door-to-door’ services, to get you from A to B not only by train but by taxi, bus and tram.
Moving ahead, we might see ideas like self-driving trains and ‘hyperloops’ [a very fast concept with travel through specially-built tubes]?
Hyperloops are more likely to be for goods, and it’s something that’s quite a long way off. On the other hand self-driving trains are coming sooner – for goods from 2019 and a few years later for the TGVs. The interest of it is more regularity, more frequency because the trains could be closer together so we can have more trains running, and improved safety. But there would still be staff on board to make sure there are no problems.
What do you plan to improve the local train services, which often suffer from delays and overly full trains?
Firstly we are going to invest massively in the RER in Paris and the Ile-de-France coming years; it’s a priority because of the high number of passengers. More generally we are going to make a large investment in the the network across France, because a lot of delays are due to the state of the network and the signalling. We will spend €46bn over 10 years, which is an unheard of amount, so as to have a better network and fewer delays.
Are you ready for more competition on the railways (expected from 2020)?
It’s an opportunity for us. Yes, we are ready to a large extent, partly because we are already in competition with other companies internationally. InOui is also a way of responding – very much improving our quality and infrastructure, so we’re ready.
How is your relationship with the unions at present? – there have been many strikes in the past.
The group is doing everything we can to have as much dialogue with the unions as possible. I will be proposing a plan for the group which will involve a great deal of consultation, and I’m starting by sending a questionnaire to all the workers, which I’ve worked out with the unions.
Do you feel optimistic about the presidency of Mr Macron?
He knows the subject of transport well because we was well-advised by transport experts during his campaign, and he has given some outlines of his ideas, which correspond well with our ambitions. From our point of view it’s very positive. He’s someone who listens a lot, which is a real strength.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’d like to tell our British customers that the Gare du Nord has a lot of work going on for new facilities like a coworking space, with many improvements due to be ready in 2019. However they can continue using it and will see changes day by day. A lot has already been done, including a Eurostar business lounge, a new Michelin-starred restaurant called l’Etoile du Nord and and a new layout for the mezzanine area.