Provence & Côte d’Azur: The notoriously pricy TGV introduces Ouigo – a low cost alternative to compete with low-cost airlines
French railway giant SNCF has entered the budget travel market, promising high speed travel between Provence and Paris for as little as 10 euros. The all-new TGV Ouigo mimics that of most no-frills services – bag limits, no refunds and no meal options.
“This new offer is for the four million French people who live outside Paris and who are more inclined to take their car rather than the train,” said the president of the SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, while presenting the TGV Ouigo service in Marne la Vallée in east Paris.
The first budget trains will depart from Marne on 2nd April, before reaching Marseille and Montpellier via Lyon Saint Exupéry. A total of three round-trip journeys will take place each weekday and five journeys will be available on weekends. By cutting the option of first class travel, each train will have the capacity to carry 1,268 passengers per week – 20 per cent more than an ordinary TGV train.
And class division is not the only luxury to be sacrificed for efficiency. No buffet service will be available and passengers will not be allowed to lug unlimited amounts of baggage aboard the train. They will be entitled to one free suitcase and one piece of hand luggage, but any extra will cost five euros. Clients in need of a powerpoint will also have to cough up two euros. But the general director of SNCF Voyages, Barbara Dalibard, explains that the money has to come from somewhere. “We have to diminish our production costs by 30 per cent,” she said to the AFP.
There is also no room for disorganisation on the TGV Ouigo – passengers will have to make their bookings at least four hours before travel. “To speed up boarding and guarantee comfort,” they must also arrive at the station at least 30 minutes early. For the association of railway passengers AVUC, these issues are not being addressed by the company. “The SNCF only seems to be communicating the price of travel, but it eludes the subject of inconvenience. For example, it will be impossible to get a refund, even for good reasons,” explained an anonymous spokesperson to the AFP.
But for frequent travellers and families on a budget, the benefits appear to outweigh the costs. Tariffs for children are fixed at a meagre 10 euros, while a 20 euro ‘mini-group’ fare is available for four to eight passengers travelling together.
The general price of a TGV Ouigo train ticket will cost between 10 and 85 euros – while ordinary TGV fares from the south of France to Paris often exceed 100 euros. With Air France and easyJet offering budget airfares, SNCF have been forced to crank down its costs.
The federation of transport users (FNAUT) is hoping that the offer will ultimately expand to provide a similar service with intercity trains. Ouigo passengers headed to Paris will have to take a bus or train from Marne in the eastern part of the city to reach their final destination, while Marseille is the only Azurean city to welcome the service.
But despite its limitations, the TVG Ouigo is a breakthrough in railway transport. “Accessible high speed trains correspond to a new SNCF committment to provide travel for all,” said the SNCF president. The first 400,000 tickets on sale each year will cost 10 euros, while the next million will cost 25 euros.
Credit: Isabelle Younane in The Riviera Times