how the unlimited train package for 49 euros survived a standoff with the regions

Almost buried on Wednesday April 3 in the morning, the “rail pass” regained color at the end of the day. This promise from Emmanuel Macron might finally see the light of day this summer, announced Patrice Vergriete, but in a largely revised formula and on an experimental basis. This is a small victory for the minister, who had earlier alerted Franceinfo regarding a possible cancellation of this measure with ecological and social aims, accusing three regions of blocking negotiations. The pass should allow 700,000 young people under the age of 27 to travel unlimited aboard regional trains for a flat rate of 49 euros per month, between June and September. Franceinfo explains to you the ins and outs of the political standoff between the executive and the regions, which has left its mark on the modalities of the measure.

A presidential commitment planed in March

Interviewed on September 4, 2023 by YouTuber Hugo Travers on the unlimited train offer for 49 euros per month created in Germany on May 1, 2023, Emmanuel Macron promises the creation of“a similar service in the coming months”. “All regions that are ready to do it with the State, bank”he says in a sequence devoted to his commitments to ecology.

The launch of the “rail pass” is then confirmed by the Ministry of Transport and scheduled for summer 2024. Clément Beaune, predecessor of Patrice Vergriete, then promises a service which would allow any traveler, whatever their age, to use unlimited regional train network in France (TER and Intercités, but not TGV) for a price of 49 euros, like in Germany.

This promise suffered a serious blow at the beginning of March, in the face of regions very worried regarding the additional financial costs and the management of passenger flows. After discussions, Patrice Vergriete, who replaced Clément Beaune in January, finally buried the idea of ​​a package for all valid all year round: the “rail pass” for all becomes a summer device reserved for young people.

A month later, the government reveals that even this new formula pass is threatened. “Unless there is a change of direction from the regional presidents, even today, we cannot be operational”affirms the Minister Delegate in charge of Transport, Wednesday morning, on franceinfo. “Three regional presidents are missing (…) Hervé Morin [centriste, Normandie]Xavier Bertrand [LR, Hauts-de-France] and Laurent Wauquiez [LR, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes]points out Patrice Vergriete, concluding on a pessimistic note: “There will be no ‘rail pass’ this summer.”

Three regions convinced following an ultimatum

If they first confirmed to franceinfo on Wednesday their opposition to the government’s plan, the three regions in question finally accepted the idea of ​​an experiment this summer, without obtaining success on all their demands. “We still accepted, because we do not want to penalize the young people of Hauts-de-France”, explains the presidency of this region to franceinfo. Same change of foot on the side of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, where the Region “agrees to experiment with this ‘rail pass’ this year”.

“But its renewal, in one year, will be conditional on the presence of all regions, without exception.”

Frédéric Aguilera, vice-president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region

at franceinfo

The regions still refuse to give a blank check to the government, very upset regarding the method to make this “rail pass” a reality, and the resources allocated. The three regional presidents implicated by the Minister of Transport did not appreciate the fact that he cited them publicly. “The government is trying to put pressure on us, that’s clear”we whisper to the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region, tackling as we pass “quite astonishing statements from a minister with whom the Region has never had the slightest contact”.

Some even saw it as a way for the government to hit the opposition, in particular Les Républicains, and to point the finger at Laurent Wauquiez and Xavier Bertrand, two figures with presidential ambitions. “It’s clownish to throw out regional presidents who don’t want them and, it’s curious, they are all LR, except Hervé Morin, but he is not in the majority”, denounced Christophe Coulon, vice-president of the Hauts-de-France region, on franceinfo. For its part, the government has made no secret of wanting “make these three regional presidents face their responsibilities”criticizing a “political opposition”according to Patrice Vergriete’s office.

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The exclusion of Ile-de-France contested

Although they ended up giving their agreement, the regions maintain their criticism of the government’s system. Normandy, Hauts-de-France and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes pointed out the same shortcoming: the impossibility of using the pass to travel in Ile-de-France. “We had asked that the Ile-de-France region not be excluded from the system, because as a neighboring region, this would penalize our users”explains Xavier Bertrand’s entourage to franceinfo, specifying that they did not win their case.

In the sights of the three presidents, the prices of public transport in the Ile-de-France region, increased in the summer of 2024 as part of the Olympic Games, and inevitable for traveling from one station to another in the capital. “I want the ‘rail pass’ to apply throughout France”assures Hervé Morin to franceinfo. “But at this stage, a young Lyonnais who passes through Paris to go to Lille will have to pay 4 euros for his metro ticket”thunders the centrist president of the Normandy region.

“The ‘rail pass’ designed by the government is completely unfair, because it affects all provincials forced to pass through Paris.”

Hervé Morin, president of the Normandy region

at franceinfo

For those around Xavier Bertrand, some young people will not have the means to visit the capital: “Those who want pspending the day visiting Parisian museums, the Palace of Versailles or going to Fontainebleau will have to take an unlimited day pass, the Paris 2024 Pass, at 16 euros.

The regions fear the bill

The financing of the pass also contributed to dragging out negotiations. As early as March, the government announced that the State would cover 80% of its cost, estimated at 15 million euros. The rest will have to be paid by the regions, which finance regional trains and decide on prices. A gesture that is clearly insufficient for the regions. “The president makes big announcements, but behind it are always the same effects: the regions will have to pay, while Ile-de-France is excluded from the system, which makes no sense”we get annoyed at the presidency of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

In Normandy, Hervé Morin highlights the specificity of his region, which finances its entire network alone. “The Region pays for all trains, with a flow of 64,000 passengers per day, but the State proposes to recover 85% of the revenue linked to the sale of the ‘rail pass’ and offers nothing on possible losses for the network Norman”, he explains to franceinfo. The centrist further judges the total cost “vastly underestimated” : The government gives us fanciful figures, this shows its improvisation on this subject”he tackles.

Many concrete details therefore remain to be resolved during future discussions between the government and the regions. In 2020, discussions had already made it possible to set up, for two consecutive summers, a TER youth pass at 29 euros per month, valid everywhere in France, except in Ile-de-France.

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