France travel wrap: Ferry delays plan, tourist scams, private jet tax

Plus: Cocaine-laced ‘lost property’ kills French railway worker, Easter traffic warnings and why we might soon see the end of turnstiles on Paris’ metro

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week
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Coaches to be staggered at Dover to avoid repeat of delays

The Port of Dover has announced a series of emergency measures to avoid ferry delays for Easter holidaymakers, including spreading coach travel over three days.

A “critical incident” was declared last weekend (beginning March 31) as queues built up at the border crossing, with some coach passengers delayed for up to 14 hours.

Read more: Brexit row after delays of up to 14 hours at Dover ferry port

An urgent review was subsequently called by port management, involving ferry operators and French border control authorities, to find short-term solutions to the problem.

These include DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries working with their coach customers to spread travel across three days, starting on Thursday (April 6).

The port is also installing additional temporary border control infrastructure as contingency capacity for coach processing.

The infrastructure has been trialled this week in readiness for the weekend.

Finally, French border control authorities are providing a full complement of officials to process outbound travellers, despite a forecast of lower coach volumes.

In a press release, the Port of Dover said: “This weekend is again expected to be busy at the port for car traffic, which has been processed according to plan so far over the Easter holidays, although coach traffic is expected to be one third lower than the weekend of April 1.

“Coach and car drivers are being advised not to arrive early for sailings, to avoid unnecessary bottlenecks in the Dover area.

“All Port of Dover stakeholders are acutely aware that last weekend was a horrible situation for many travellers, including the elderly and schoolchildren. It is the top priority of all parties to ensure a better experience for travellers this weekend.

“These additional measures are intended to significantly improve traffic throughput and give travellers a better start to their holidays.”

Read also: Second-home owner frustration at UK-France ferry cancellations

Traffic warning as Easter holidays get underway

It is not just ferry passengers facing potential travel disruption this weekend – motorists in France have also been told to expect delays as a result of the Easter getaway.

Read more: Easter driving latest: traffic news, fuel shortages, petrol price cuts

Forecasting service Bison Futé says traffic will be heavy in all regions as a result of the Easter long weekend and school holidays starting in Zone A (Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers).

The getaway will affect “all the major connecting roads in the country”, it adds, with the whole country covered by yellow warnings (“difficult traffic”), rising to red (“very difficult traffic”) in the south-east and around Paris on Friday (April 7).

“Many traffic jams are expected leaving the major metropolises. Departures for the long weekend come on top of the usual Friday traffic, which is already very difficult in urban and suburban areas,” it said.

On Saturday, roads heading away from urban areas will be disrupted from the morning until late afternoon. Traffic will be particularly difficult on the A13 between Paris and Rouen, the forecaster says, as well as at the Saint-Arnoult toll booths on the A10. The A7 motorway is also likely to be very congested.

Sunday traffic is not expected to pose significant problems, but the north-west of the country is on red alert for Monday on roads heading back to major cities and towns from the coast.

“Difficulties are expected to persist until late in the evening on the outskirts of major cities, particularly at the entrance to Paris and Lyon,” Bison Futé warned.

SNCF worker dies after drinking cocaine-laced punch

An autopsy on an SNCF employee who died suddenly on Monday (April 3) after drinking a liquid handed in as lost property has revealed it was laced with cocaine.

The 41-year-old was with three SNCF colleagues at Saint-Étienne Châteaucreux station when they were handed a bag from railway police, which had been identified as left luggage by a passenger.

It contained two 1.5-litre bags in boxes labelled as mojito, which both looked brand new.

The group decided to drink it but were warned by the victim, who tried it first and spat most out, that it did not taste like rum. He died shortly afterwards at the station.

The public prosecutor, David Charmatz, said on Thursday (April 6) that the autopsy had revealed death by intoxication or overdose. A criminal investigation is underway.

Read more: Cocaine bags continue to be found washed-up on beaches in Normandy

Forensic police established that one of the bags contained cocaine mixed with a substance called Levamisole, "an anti-parasitic product on list II of poisonous substances, regularly used as a cutting product by cocaine traffickers," according to the prosecutor's office.

Another SNCF worker was hospitalised after the incident as a precaution, having dipped his lips in the drink to check what his colleague had told him. He was later discharged.

Read more: Cocaine-related A&E admissions in France soar

Driver arrested over Paris tourist taxi scam

A Paris taxi driver who targeted foreign tourists has been charged with swindling more than €62,000 from them by inputting false fares in the payment terminal.

"He made them pay €1,540 per trip instead of €15.40," a source close to the case told Le Parisien.

Passengers were unaware of the scam because he partially hid the terminal screen and told them his contactless system was not working, forcing them to input their PINs to cover the large amounts.

Read more: Can taxis from Paris airports charge more for extra passengers?

Victims, who in most cases were on holiday in the capital, often did not realise they had been swindled until they returned home.

However, the 30-year-old was eventually caught on March 29 after a Spanish tourist filed a complaint. It was later discovered that he was also driving without a licence.

Some 71 passengers are believed to have been targeted by the scam since autumn of last year. They were charged, on average, €845 per journey.

Government considers increasing tax on private jets rather than outright ban

A ban on private jets in France has been ruled out by the country’s transport minister, who said there would be too many legal obstacles and difficulties in defining and controlling exemptions.

The idea had been put forward by Paris MP Julien Bayou to address the climate emergency and "bring the rich back down to earth”.

Along with his colleague Christine Arrighi, who also represents Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV, France's Green party), he proposed banning "non-scheduled passenger air transport services that are not commercially operated", as well as non-scheduled public air transport services "with fewer than 60 passengers".

“It's the measure that penalises the least number of people for the greatest and most immediate impact in favour of the climate,” Mr Bayou said.

Read more: Calls for private jet ban in France to fight climate change

The idea was debated in parliament yesterday (April 6), where Transport Minister Clément Beaune admitted that private jet use was “shocking, often out of place, sometimes unacceptable”.

Read more: ‘PSG football club’s arguments for flying Paris-Nantes do not hold’

However, he reasoned a ban would be difficult to put in place and instead mooted the idea of an "increased eco-tax" in 2024 for these flights.

He reminded MPs that the finance law for 2023 included a 70% increase in the tax on private aviation fuels.

Read more: France could lead way and make private jets use biofuel, says minister

France had the highest number of private jet flights in Europe in 2022.

Paris metro under investigation for air pollution reporting

Passengers’ lives are being put at risk because of pollution on Paris’s metro system, a group campaigning for clean air has claimed.

The charity, called Respire, announced on Wednesday (April 5) that prosecutors in Paris have opened a criminal investigation into their concerns.

It will examine allegations that metro operator RATP deliberately under-reports pollution levels and does not inform passengers about the dangers.

Read more: French union condemns underground pollution levels

"It's time to lift the veil of silence and for RATP to tell the truth to users," the head of Respire, Tony Renucci, said in a statement.

For its part, RATP says that air quality monitoring on its network is "very scrupulous and completely transparent".

French public health watchdog Anses concluded in June last year that levels of toxic fine particulate matter were on average three times higher inside the metro than outside. Of particular concern were particles generated by trains braking.

Holiday rental scam: two men arrested

People looking to book short-term holiday accommodation in France have been warned to be on their guard if offers appear too tempting.

The advice comes as two men are due to appear in court in Draguignan (Var) for offering fake flats for rent in Saint-Raphaël, a resort town on the Côte d'Azur, and in the Pyrénées-Orientales.

The properties advertised by the accused were based on genuine tourist accommodation listed elsewhere. The details had been used to make the scam look more convincing, and nearly 50 people fell for it.

Read more: Couple in France sentenced for €43,647 holiday home scam

Nicolas Caravokiros, the police commissioner for the Fréjus-Saint-Raphaël district, told Var-Matin that holidaymakers should do their homework before booking a place to stay.

“Find out if the advert has been reported on forums specialising in scams, and ideally send it to someone actually based in the location. Or go through specialised rental websites, which will have carried out a minimum of checks.”

He added: “You should give preference to telephone contacts and don’t hesitate to ask the person you are speaking to about the distance of the accommodation from the beaches, the shops in the area, etc.”

He said the two men arrested in connection with the Saint-Raphaël plot, who both hailed from Lyon, would have struggled to answer these questions.

Future of Paris metro turnstiles in doubt

A report due at the end of April is expected to shed light on the viability of replacing turnstiles on the Paris metro with automatic doors.

According to an article in Le Monde, the head of Paris’s RATP public transport network, Jean Castex, is strongly in favour of the upgrades, recently putting it at the top of a list of recommendations for government inspectors tasked with costing and evaluating the city’s public transport needs.

He claims turnstiles slow down the flow of passengers, and is reportedly fed up with seeing parents and tourists get stuck in them with pushchairs and suitcases.

Read more: Ile-de-France starts phasing out paper Paris Métro tickets

The cost of replacing them all is estimated at €60million, but there are already plans to remove them in certain stations, including Trocadéro, Porte de Saint-Cloud and La Défense, to improve traffic flow ahead of the Olympic Games.

Brittany Ferries reports rise in pet travel

More than 40,000 more pets travelled on Brittany Ferries in 2022 compared to 2021, the transport operator has revealed.

The company, which last year added 28 pet-friendly cabins to the Pont-Aven, which sails between Cork and Roscoff, says Covid may have changed people’s habits.

Some 75,000 pets accompanied their owners on its routes last year – an increase of 114% on the previous 12 months.

Read more: Reader's tip on pet passport after cat issues boarding UK-France ferry

Hugh Bruton, general manager of Brittany Ferries in Ireland said: “Over the past year, we have seen more and more tourists opting to bring their pets along with them on holiday, and are choosing ferry travel as an accessible and safe voyage for their pets.

“Particularly since Covid, people are spending so much more time at home and are finding it harder to leave their pets for longer periods.”

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