Strikes, new UK air route, family railcard: Nine France travel updates

We also look at rerouted ferries, why Paris is getting its own Highway Code, how animal collisions are impacting some rail services and more

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

Rail workers join pension strike action

SNCF and RATP unions have now also announced their intention to join strikes planned for January 19.

Union bosses for the two public transport companies revealed their decisions this week, warning of a “powerful strike” in opposition to the government’s proposed raising of the retirement age.

Read more: French pension strike: union says it aims to ground all transport

Their strike will begin at 19:00 the day before (Wednesday 18) and last until Friday morning at 8:00.

They have also hinted that further strike action may be on the cards.

"We hope for a very mobilising strike", Erik Meyer, federal secretary of the Sud-Rail union, told France Info.

"When we go on strike, the objective is to block transport and paralyse the economy.”

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne yesterday (January 12) called on unions to recognise their "responsibility", adding "obviously there is a right to strike, a right to protest, but it is also important not to penalise the people of France.”

But Mr Meyer insisted: "It is up to the government to show responsibility when such a dogmatic, violent and unfair reform is presented.

"We're talking about a reform that will make people in this country work two extra years to save €8billion a year.

“That €8billion, compared to the €220billion in aid to companies paid by the state every year or compared to the €80billion in dividends paid by CAC 40 companies, is a drop in the ocean.

“In this reform, the companies that one after the other are announcing record profits for 2022 are not asked to contribute.”

Concerning possible follow-up action, he said he would like new meetings with all the transport trade unions after next Thursday’s strike to consider their next move.

Government proposals, which were laid out by the prime minister on Tuesday (January 10), include a progressive increase to the retirement age, which would reach 64 by 2030. They also, however, include plans to raise the basic monthly pension from €1,100 to €1,200.

Read more: Age, new minimum amount: What does France’s pension reform involve?

Flybe launches new route between Birmingham and Bergerac

UK carrier Flybe has announced its summer schedule for 2023, with new flights between Birmingham and Bergerac launching on June 3.

Read more: New UK-France air routes launched from Nice and Montpellier

The flights from Birmingham International to Bergerac's Aéroport Bergerac Dordogne Périgord will operate twice weekly on Saturday and Sunday until July 24, when a third weekly rotation is added on Tuesdays until the service ends on September 9.

Flybe said the Dordogne route was inspired by strong customer demand.

"We know that UK consumers enjoy visiting France for their summer holidays and our customers have been asking that we fly to Bergerac from Birmingham Airport during the summer months,” a spokesperson told Simple Flying.

Flybe will also be resuming its seasonal services to Brest and Avignon later this year.

The flights from Birmingham to both destinations will run weekly from May 20 until July 25, and twice weekly until September 9.

However, flights to Toulon-Hyères are no longer offered.

Online application makes it easier to get a SNCF family railcard

Families with three children or more can now apply for railcards online via a new website which launched on Monday (January 9).

The platform is run by the Ministry of Transport rather than SNCF, which previously distributed the railcards via postal applications, and aims to double the number of beneficiaries by making it easier to apply.

Currently only 20% of eligible households have a carte familles nombreuses.

It gives a 30% reduction on SNCF train tickets for families with three children under 18, and up to 75% less for those with more than six children under 18.

In the Paris region, under certain conditions, the card entitles the holder to a 50% discount on the SNCF and RATP networks.

Read more: Railway station ticket-stamping machines to be phased out in France

SNCF had to suspend its application service for a month to facilitate the change, but the website, the French government's online portal, promises: "Cards that expire in December 2022 or during January 2023 will remain valid until the end of January 2023".

The application fee is now €18, regardless of the number of cards ordered, down from €19 previously.

Mayor promises a ‘Highway Code for Parisians’

Consultations on a ‘Paris Highway Code’ are to start in February, the city’s mayor has revealed, as part of a drive to improve how pedestrians, motorists and cyclists share road space.

Read more: Plans finalised to ban cars from narrow streets of Montmartre in Paris

Anne Hidalgo first unveiled plans for a Code de la rue parisien in 2020. The aim is to improve "road safety and the difficult cohabitation between pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, taxis, delivery vehicles and buses", reports BFM.

The mayor promises that the project will be carried out "in close collaboration with Parisians" and hopes to have it ready by June.

To that end, she wants to bring together "residents, experts, public and private partners" in February to discuss how it could work.

A citizens' assembly, made up of around a hundred Parisians, is already looking into the idea and should present its conclusions to the Paris council in March, she said.

As well as offering a timescale for her highway code, Ms Hidalgo revealed during a New Year address on Tuesday (January 10) that she wants 2023 to mark a "decisive" step in the spread of pedestrian zones in certain districts of the capital, although details have not been revealed.

A so-called ‘Plan vélo’, adopted in 2021, also aims to create 450km of cycle paths in the capital by 2026.

Read also: Plans finalised to ban cars from narrow streets of Montmartre in Paris

Brittany Ferries’ re-routed Ouistreham service returns to normal

The Brittany Ferries service between Caen-Ouistreham (Calvados) and Portsmouth will return to normal tomorrow (January 14) following a week of disruption.

The service has been rerouted since Monday (January 9) due to maintenance works on the gangway that allows vehicles to board the ship in Ouistreham.

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

"The project, which will require the shutdown of operations, will be carried out in two stages (one stage per side of the bridge)," explained the CCI (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) Caen Normandie, which has been carrying out the work.

"The first is this week, and the second, also lasting a week, will be carried out in January 2024.”

The overall cost of the operation is €335,000, reports Liberté Caen.

Brittany Ferries has been re-routing its ships to the ports of Roscoff, Saint-Malo and Cherbourg in the meantime, but will resume normal services from 6:30 tomorrow.

5% ticket price hike for TGV and Intercity trains from this week

Some TGV and Intercity tickets, including those bought at the last minute, increased by an average of 5% this week as a result of soaring electricity costs.

The price hikes, which came into effect on Tuesday (January 10), affect business tickets and last-minute bookings the most.

Unsurprisingly, SNCF will adjust pricing depending on the time and demand of the train.

Read more: Which French TGV trains are affected by ticket price rises this year?

SNCF said its skyrocketing energy costs justify the increases, but some types of ticket will be spared from the change, at least until September.

These include Ouigo tickets, ‘tarifs minimums’ tickets bought far in advance and tickets bought by Avantage cardholders.

It has not been all bad news for rail passengers this week, however, as SNCF also slashed the price of 150,000 TGV Inoui tickets.

Read more: Paris-London and London-Lille included in France’s train ticket promo

The promotional ‘Connect Days’ tickets will be available until January 31 or until the 150,000 seats have sold out, whichever comes first.

The rail operator is also running a ‘flash sale’ which began on January 10, with some tickets available for €19.

Road tunnel closures will affect access to ski resorts

Access to ski resorts was disrupted from Monday (January 9) in Alpes-Maritimes as two key road tunnels closed for renovation work.

The Mescla and Reveston tunnels, located in the commune of Malaussène, are due to remain shut for more than a year – until June 28, 2024.

A diversion has been put in place via the RM6202 road in both directions until that date, reports BFM.

The tunnels will also reopen on certain weekends to "support the mountain resorts and handle the influx of traffic linked to winter and summer tourism", says the department.

Read more: Ski stations in France see some snow after major lack in mild January

Every day, 4,900 vehicles pass through the tunnels, 12% of which are heavy goods vehicles transporting dangerous materials.

Work, which is needed to make their passage safer, will involve making the tunnels watertight again, reinforcing fire-fighting equipment and modernising the fans and lighting.

Eurotunnel reports buoyant Christmas passenger numbers

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle marked its best December weekend since 2019, with a peak of almost 25,000 cars between Friday December 16 and Sunday December 18, 2022.

It was an increase of close to 20% compared to the same period the previous year.

Overall, it carried more than 100,000 passenger vehicles between Folkestone and Coquelles (Pas-de-Calais) over the Christmas and New Year period.

At the start of December, Eurotunnel announced a special offer for Le Shuttle tickets, starting at £60 return per car for travel every day up to December 13.

Read more: EasyJet strike risk, short flight ban upheld: 10 France travel updates

Tickets are normally at least £70 each way, although prices vary depending on the time of year.

Collisions with animals reduce train capacity in Brittany

The time and cost of repairing trains damaged by wildlife collisions has forced the Breton branch of SNCF to reduce the size of some trains.

Since Wednesday (January 11), the number of carriages in circulation on the line between Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine) and Châteaubriant (Loire-Atlantique) has been reduced, and the disruption is set to last until January 27.

"In November and December, there were 52 collisions with animals," Magalie Nauleau, press officer at SNCF Bretagne, told Le Figaro.

The figure is much higher than those for the same period in previous years: there were 14 in 2019, 24 in 2020 and 36 in 2021.

There was also a recent collision between a train and a car at a level crossing.

Damage from animal strikes costs SNCF on average €6,200 per incident, and takes the train affected temporarily out of service.

"Every train that is hit has to be cleaned of blood and hair and thoroughly checked," Ms Nauleau said.

She added that they are also “experiencing delays in the supply of certain spare parts”.

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

It is not just the Rennes-Châteaubriant line that is affected – services linking Rennes to Saint-Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine) and Dinan (Côtes-d'Armor) have also seen their passenger capacity reduced.

According to SNCF, the disruption affects 2% of rail traffic in Brittany.

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