The national rail service in France, SNCF, is beginning a new “hyper low-cost” high-speed rail service option with the goal of attracting suburban commuters who currently use cars.
France has long had a tradition of making cutting-edge rail service available to people across all income brackets. And the new service, OuiGo, continues and expands upon that tradition. Making modern high-speed rail travel available for considerably less than it was before.
“OuiGo brings the aviation low-cost concept to high-speed railways,” Yonah Freemark of the Transport Politic explains. “In exchange for a cheap ticket, customers will be charged for a second carry-on bag; they’ll pay more for the use of an electrical outlet; they’ll be unable to change their tickets without a fee…. Double-decker trains will seat 1,268 passengers, not because seats have been compressed (unlike the airlines, thank god), but rather because the first class and dining car spaces have been replaced by economy-class areas.”
One of the primary ways that costs will be lowered will be by locating the train stops further from the city centers, which will cut down on operating costs, while also attracting new riders living in closer proximity to those areas.
“It’s an innovative approach to providing train service at lower costs, one that sacrifices convenience to the city center for easy access for suburban automobile users, who, despite France’s rather well-developed transit networks, nonetheless constitute a large portion of the population,” continues Freemark. “For them, an easy-to-access train station in the suburbs — combined with cheaper-than-normal tickets — may be enough to induce them to switch to the train.”
OuiGo has been in the planning stages since 2009, and it seems that the program has really been well designed. And while there is currently some resistance from unions (because OuiGo cuts down on employee numbers), the system seems likely to be successful.