Local public transport organisation in France:
A new deal?
Presentation to the Seventh THREDBO Conference
Molde (Norway) - June 2001
9 rue Juliette Recamier - 69456 - LYON cedex 06 - France
Tel: 00 33 4 72 74 58 47
Fax: 00 33 4 72 74 59 20
Since the beginning of the eighties, organisation of local transport has been rather stable in France.
However, during recent years, there has been an acceleration in the transformation of rules and
stakeholders of local transport. Major consequences are expected. Some of them are already visible.
Changes of the rules come from several laws passed at the end of nineties. In 1995, a Clean Air Act
strengthened transport master plans (Plan de déplacement urbain "PDU") by giving a deadline to the
local authorities that have to draw them up. In 1999, a law called "Loi Chevènement" encouraged,
with great success, the 36 000 town or village councils to get together locally for common
administration. In addition, at the end of 2000, several important changes were implemented through
an ambitious law, called SRU (Solidarité et Renouvellement urbain). This law deals with various
subjects such as housing, land planning and transportation.
Concerning transportation, SRU has given the responsibility of regional transport organisation to the
regional councils; the Paris regional transport authority was itself transformed, becoming STIF instead
of STP. For urban and suburban transport, a new kind of co-operation between different levels of
transport authorities has been created.
For the operators, the main fact was the taking control of the major company VIA-GTI by the public
railway operator SNCF, creating a new company: Keolis. Mergers among operators continue.
Furthermore, The SRU law has allowed the main public operator of Paris, RATP, to tender to operate
outside the Paris region.
All the facts should allow a necessary renewal of French public transport, notably through an
improvement in intermodality. Nevertheless, the debate whether it is enough to solve the huge
problems French urban areas face is not closed. Further steps are necessary.
Since the beginning of the eighties, organisation of local public transport has been rather stable in
France. However, during the last years, there has been an acceleration of the transformation of rules
and stakeholders of local transport. Major consequences are expected.
This paper is structured in three parts: first, it presents the current position of public transport
organisation. Then, it describes the main problems related to the transport system. Finally, it explains
the very recent changes and what is expected.
1- ORGANISATION OF LOCAL PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN FRANCE
The current organisation of local transport in France dates from the beginning of the eighties when
important laws changed in depth the framework conditions, by implementing decentralisation.
1-1 Institutional framework
While France has a long history of centralisation, the past 20 years have brought some radical changes.
At first sight, the system may seem complex: France is one of the few states in the European Union
with 4 levels of government - the central government, regional councils, departmental councils and
town or village councils (communes).
The decentralisation law of 2 March 1982 and the legislation completing it marked the central
government's desire to alter the balance of power between the state and local authorities. It gave far
greater autonomy in decision-making by sharing administrative and budgetary tasks between central
and local authorities. This decentralisation law has defined a new territorial organisation.
Three levels of local government
- 36 700 town or village councils
- 100 departmental councils
- 26 regional councils
The decentralisation law has defined the remit of each level of local government in accordance with
two principles: there is no hierarchy between them, and a remit is totally transferred to one level (in a
block, the opposite of the subsidiary principle).
The lowest level, the town or village councils are also the level with the most responsibilities:
Examples of responsibilities of the local governments
Towns (school buildings, local planning, social housing, local roads, car parking, waste, water, gas,
Departments (social assistance, departmental road authority, secondary school buildings...)
Regions (Economic development, environment...)
Budget per inhabitant
(Central government: 23 000 F/inh.)
Towns: 7800 F/inh.
Departments: 4100 F/inh.
Regions: 1400 F/inh.
Of course, 36 700 town or village councils is a lot, maybe too many, furthermore 85 % of them have
less than 2 000 inhabitants. That is why, for a long time, central government has urged, without
success, the local councils to join forces into specific associations. We will see later that is a key point
for the organisation of local transport.
1-2 Local public transport
1.2.1 Authorities for public transport
A few months later the decentralisation law, the "Loi d'Orientation sur les Transport Intérieur (LOTI)"
(Transport Act) was passed (December 1982).
The LOTI is an important law, which defines the main rules for the organisation of public transport.
First, the LOTI established a new concept: the right to travel for everybody. That means, whoever and
wherever one is, one should be able to go where one wants, notably by means of public transport. Of
course, it is a theoretical concept that is quite impossible to implement. It is an ideal, which reflects the
willingness of the government to set up a large public transport system.
To improve the public transport system, The LOTI decentralised its organisation to the towns and the
departments and in a way to the regions:
Towns (alone or in association with several others) are urban transport authorities;
Departments are non-urban transport authorities (except for national routes and railways);
Regions participate to the organisation of the regional rail services.
The central government has the responsibility to organise national services.
The Paris region (Ile de France) has a particular status: the transport authority for this area is
a specific organisation (STP) joining the departmental councils of the region and the state (we
will see that a recent law has changed this organisation and its name, STP is today STIF). The
situation of the Paris region is particular because of its 12 million inhabitants (one fifth of the
French population) and its attraction for tourists.
Each local transport authority has to:
- define a transport policy through a transport mobility plan
- design the services (routes, timetables, quality)
- determine the fares
- create and manage the infrastructure and equipment assigned to the transport
- choose and to make a contract with an operator
Urban transport is organised inside a perimeter, called PTU (perimeter of urban transport). PTU is
defined by the central government, at the request of the town councils. It contains one or several local
councils. In this last case, local councils are associated in a specific organisation. For instance, the
PTU of Lyon contains 25 councils assembled with the aim of providing a unique and coherent urban
Inside the PTU, there is a specific tax levied from all the companies inside the perimeter. This tax,
called Versement Transport (VT), is important revenue for the urban transport funding:
Figure 1 : Financing urban transport costs (operating and investment) (1998)
The revenue from passengers is
100% 10% of course not sufficient to cover
90% the costs of urban transport, or
24% even to cover operating costs:
70% Others The ratio of passenger revenue to
60% Passengers operating cost is 35 % for Paris,
50% VT and 32.5% average for others
40% Local Governments cities.
30% State Except for Paris, central
20% 12% government contribution is
The category named "others" is
made up of revenues such as
Paris Others cities
advertising or financial benefits.
The Departments are responsible for the organisation of non-urban coach services inside their area.
There are two main categories of departmental transport services: the most important one concerns
school transport services; the other one concerns short intercity routes or rural transport.
The Regions are responsible for the organisation of regional intercity bus routes and the LOTI has
enabled them to adjust regional train services, which were under the responsibility of the central
government. For that, volunteers regions could enter into a contract with the national (and unique)
railway operator (SNCF).
Once again, there is a difference between Paris region and the rest of the country.
1-2.1 Urban areas and departments outside the Paris region
The local transport authorities (LTA) can choose two different ways of providing the transport
- they can provide the services themselves directly via a public company (regie)
- or they can delegate the operation of transport services to a private or mixed economy company.
The LTAs that have decided to provide their transport services themselves are increasingly rare, less
than 10 % today.
For the others, they have to choose the operator by a tendering procedure, which respects strict rules
(defined by the "SAPIN" law - cf "the Sapin legislation and its effects on tendering and competition in
public transport in France", Pascal Vincent, Thredbo 6, Cape Town 1999).
The chosen company is in charge of all operations during a limited period, the duration of which is
linked to the size of the investments to be amortised and to the level of operating hazards.
Contracts between authorities and companies define the services to be operated, the quality criteria,
and the penalties if these criteria are not respected and the way the operator is remunerated. For this
last point, authorities have the choice between four main types of contracts, depending of the sharing
out of the risks (commercial risk and operating costs risk).
- Management contract ("gérance"): old-fashioned contract, the LTA pays the operator each
year. The LTA bears the operating costs risk and the commercial one.
- Fixed-price contract: Contract is based on an estimation of the operating costs made by the
operator. The operator bears the operating costs, the LTA bears the commercial risk.
- Contract with financial compensation: This type of contracts generally contains a formula
for sharing profits or losses in the event that they reach a pre-defined level. The two risks
are shared between the operator and the LTA.
- Own-risk contract: The operator shoulders all the risks. In order to pay itself, it determines
and collects the fares. These contracts are only used for some departmental coach services.
For urban public transport, in 1999:
- 20% were management contracts;
- 34% were fixed-price contracts;
- 39 % were contracts with financial compensation;
- The remaining 7% are the cities that provide transport services themselves.
Who are the operators?
At the end of the eighties, thirteen companies shared the major part of the public transport market. But
after mergers and buy-outs, today there are only four main companies, which share more than 60 % of
the urban public transport sector:
KEOLIS, the biggest private company of public transport in France is a very recent one, arisen from
the merger of two important operators: VIA-GTI and CARIANE. KEOLIS operates in 83 French
cities. The majority shareholder of KEOLIS is the national railway operator SNCF. This merger
allows SNCF to enter the urban transport market in France and in Europe (VIA-GTI had contracts in
Germany, Spain, Netherlands and Denmark). SNCF which is much attached to its monopoly for the
French railways, has become a strong competitor in the rest of Europe.
TRANSDEV, is a company owned by a National Bank (Caisse des Dépots). Transdev is the operator
in 34 cities in France, and is known for its expertise on mass transit systems (Transdev operates the
Melbourne tramway, the Nottingham light rail and the Porto light rail).
CONNEX, a Vivendi-Universal subsidiary, operates in 34 French cities. CONNEX carries out more
than 70% of its turnover abroad. In Great Britain, for example it has two important franchises for
VERNEY, one of the last remaining family transport company, operates essentially non-urban coach
Figure 2: Share of urban networks
1-2.2 Operators for the Paris Region
The organization of mass transit relies, for the most part, on two state-owned companies, RATP
(Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) and SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer).
The RATP is not only responsible for the operation of the lines it has been assigned, it also:
performs feasibility studies and conceptual design of new dedicated right-of-way routes or
extension of existing routes, for approval by the authority (STIF),
performs the design, tendering and construction management of approval projects, handling of
all public works administrative responsibilities,
determines the conditions for construction, supply of equipment and operation of the transport
system assigned to it as part of its mandate.
In the Ile-de-France region, apart from the rail lines of national interest, its role is similar to that of
RATP, but for the suburban railway and RER lines which it operates. A contract plan signed between
Congestion Decrease in quality Increase in PT
of public transport financing issues
the State and SNCF determines the objectives assigned to the company as part of a national master
Decrease in this purpose.
Increase in use plan, and the resources available foruse of
of Decrease in
car - OPTILE: public transport commercial revenue
Additionally, numerous private companies (approximately 100) operate the bus routes on the
periphery of the Paris transport area. All of them are gathered in an association named OPTILE.
OPTILE has a rather limited role (though growing), in comparison with RATP and SNCF, (7.5% of
total urban public transport use in the Paris region).
The main rules of the French public transport dated from the beginning of the eighties. France has four
levels of government, and each one is responsible for the organisation of a public transport network
inside its area. Except for rail, the Paris region and a few cities, transport services are delegated to
independent companies via a tendering process.
2- MAIN ISSUES
The LOTI and the decentralisation laws are 20 years old today, and evolution of French society means
that they are becoming obsolete, or need to be brought up to date. The mobility of citizens has changed
due essentially to the fact they are living further and further to the city centre. However, the urban
perimeter has not changed since their creation, and the different public transport networks are not well
co-ordinate because of the multiplicity of local authorities without hierarchy.
2.1 Urban sprawl
The main evolution, the most visible one, is the acceleration of the sprawl of almost every city. And,
as you know, Transport and Land use go hand in hand. Changes in spatial development have resulted
in dispersion of economic and social activities. This has required increased personal mobility.
number of journeys: 3.4 3.2
time: 55.4 mins 54.5 mins
Journeyed distance: 17.5 km 22.8 km
Mobility in journeys.km 59.5 72.9
Characteristics of urban mobility in France
Increased use of private cars has both been a result of this process of urban sprawl and one of the main
factors reinforcing this process.
The increased use of cars has increased congestion, which has had an effect on the speed of the road-
based public transport and eventually on public transport appeal.
Moreover, in the distant and low-density areas, classic forms of public transport are not convenient
and are very costly, new services have to be implemented such as "transport à la demande".
The dispersion of habitations and the increased use of cars involved an increase in public transport
costs and a decrease in public transport revenue.
This a vicious circle, a double circle to be accurate:
2.2 The issue of the intermodality
Congestion is essentially due to commuters from suburban areas going to inner cities. Most of them
use their car every day because first, they prefer their car, and secondly, they do not have the choice.
An increasing number of them live outside the perimeter of urban transport and so, if they want to use
public transport, they have to first use a departmental coach or a regional train then change to take a
bus or a metro. So they need to use different means of transport operated by different companies and
organised by different local authorities. Generally, it is a real obstacle course, because you have to buy
a ticket for each operator and because timetables are not always synchronised. There is no alternative
to the use of private cars for them.
This is the main issue of the public transport in France: they are under the responsibility of different
local authorities, without co-ordination. This is the issue of the intermodality: how to co-ordinate the
two or three different public transport systems running in the same area? Transport authorities have to
work together to improve:
their information services;
their ticketing systems;
the transport interchanges;
the synchronisation of the service arrival and departure times.
2.3 The Regional railways
Until very recently, regional trains, under the responsibility of the central government and operated by
the single railway operator SNCF, were in a critical situation. The central government is too distant
from the users to really know their needs. SNCF did not consider regional trains as a priority, and
preferred to invest on the very fast trains. In addition, because there is only one operator, costs of
services were very high. As a result, regional trains were mostly inconvenient, uncomfortable and very
The PTUs (urban public transport perimeters) have become obsolete because of urban sprawl.
Nowadays, to travel by public transport often means to use several networks operated and organised
by different entities. To solve this problem, LTAs should dramatically improve the intermodality.
Nevertheless, the organisation is not suited for that: There are too many authorities, which are not very
keen to work together.
3- RECENT CHANGES
In order to break the vicious circle that causes the continual increase in the use of private cars, French
central government has chosen to fight on several fronts:
Recently, several laws have been implemented in order to:
relaunch Urban transport planning
improve the organisation of urban and suburban public transport
improve the organisation of regional transport
limit urban sprawl
3.1 Relaunch the urban transport planning
The LOTI asked the local transport authorities to draw up transport plans in order to define a medium
term transport policy. Transport plans has to define the principles of the organisation of transport and
for urban areas, urban transport plans (called PDU: Plan de Déplacement Urbain) has to manage the
traffic flow and the parking policy.
However, until 1996, very few transport plans had been created. At that date, the increase in concern
about urban transport problems and air quality led the central government to implement a law aimed to
improve air quality. This Clean Air Act (Loi sur l'air) asked again the LTAs to draw up a PDU, but
added new aims and a deadline for the cities with
over 100 000 inhabitants. For these cities, the PDU has to aim at car traffic reduction and public
Five years after the Clean Air Act, there are 40 PDUs drawn up.
3.2 Improve the organisation urban and suburban public transport
3.2.1 Grouping the town councils
As it has been said before, the very large number of town or village councils could be a problem for
the organisation of urban public transport.
Passed in 1999, a law encourages local councils from a same urban area to merge to form urban
communities (communautés urbaines) in order to manage together responsibilities in land use
planning, transport, and several other fields.
This is not the first time that central government has tried to reduce the fragmentation of municipal
responsibilities, but both residents and local councillors often retain a strong sense of identity with
However, this law seems to be a great success: after two years, there are 90 urban communities.
SRU association, grouping :
Transport The region council,
Transport The department council
tax 1 PTU 1
3.2.2 A new association especially designed for suburban transport
an important law was passed, concerning transport, land use planning and housing:
In December 2000,transport
the SRU law (Solidarité et Renouvellement Urbain).
SRU has enabled different Local Transport Authorities to group themselves in a specific association
(called Syndicat mixte) to coordinate transport services together.
The LTAs grouped in an "SRU" association have to co-ordinate their transport network and to
implement an integrated information system and an integrated ticketing system. The SRU associations
can, if necessary, organise transport routes between the different perimeters of its members.
Furthermore, those associations can raise a specific tax, similar to the VT tax (cf. 1.2.1).
At this moment, there are not yet any new associations like this, and it is too early to predict if this law
will be a success or not. It depends on the willingness of the LTAs.
3.3 Improve the organisation of regional transport
3.3.1 Outside the Paris Region
The SRU law has given the entire responsibility of the regional train services to the Regions. In fact,
seven regions have experimented with this organisation since 1997. Now, Regions are transport
authorities. They have to:
- define a transport policy through a transport mobility plan
- design the services (routes, timetables, quality)
- determine the fares
- create and manage the infrastructure and equipment assigned to the transport
- make contract with an operator
For this last point, the French railway (SNCF) operator has the monopoly. Nevertheless, for the first
time, SNCF has to sign a contract with local authorities. These contracts are very similar to urban
transport fixed-price contracts. The only difference is that there is no competition. However, this new
organisation looks like a rehearsal before a possible, but still taboo, opening of the regional train
3.3.2 The Paris Region
SRU has brought two changes for the Paris Region.
The transport authority of the Paris Region has been changed from STP (Syndicat des transports
Parisiens) to STIF (Syndicat des transports d'Ile de France).
STP was an association with representatives from central government and from departmental councils.
Now, in the STIF association, the Regional council has several representatives. It shows that today
public transport is considered on a wider scale, not only for the city of Paris but really for the Ile de
The other change concerns the main operator of Paris Region: RATP.
RATP had a particular status: it is a public operator who has a monopoly on the Paris metro and buses.
But, until SRU, RATP was not allowed to operate in places other than Paris.
Because of a less competitive environment due to mergers and buyouts, it has been decided to allow
RATP to compete in other cities in France and probably in Europe (The Commission still has to
express itself on this particular point).
3.4 limit the urban sprawl
SRU law is the first law in France that deals with urban planning and transport organisation. Land use
planning is the responsibility of the town councils so it is quite impossible to have a global policy,
apart from strong rules enforced by central government.
This is a very sensitive subject in France, because towns want to keep one of their main
responsibilities. However, SRU seems to be successful in making a first step to control urban sprawl.
SRU is urging town councils to draw up a large-scale urban plan, in association with other local
authorities. This plan should forecast the development of the city 20 years forward.
4- CONCLUSION: A FIRST STEP
After several decades of hegemony of private cars, it has become obvious that the French transport
system is not sustainable.
A raft of several laws has been recently passed. It is the result of a difficult political choice: that of
combating the urban sprawl and its undesirable effects essentially due to the imbalanced transport
system. But, although it is easy to say, it is another thing to redraw cities after 30 years of evolution
governed by the need to adapt them to private car.
In the medium term, for the transport system, intermodality is the key word. In fact, it appears that the
potential of single mode journeys is limited because no other single mode can compete with the
flexibility of car travel. In addition, financial constraints limit the ability of buses to be provided to
service widely scattered origins and destinations, each contributing only a few potential passengers.
Pressure on public finances has reduced the ability of the state to provide the subsidies and
infrastructure investment needed to plug these gaps.
Nevertheless, as we can read in the diagnosis report of the European task force transport intermodality,
the potential of intermodal transport has not been fully exploited: "The organisational separation of the
different modes and the frequent inadequacy of interchange facilities has prevented intermodal
passenger transport from realising its full potential".
The new type of LTA associations, allowed by the SRU law is expected to give the means to local
government to implement integrated transport systems. For their part, operators are preparing
themselves, like KEOLIS which was issued from a merger between an urban operator and a non-urban
one, and can operate all the means of transport.
Les grands groupes français de transport de voyageurs, histoire, stratégie, diversification;
Urban Public transport in France, Institutional organisation, CERTU, 1995 (an updated
edition will be available soon).
VINCENT P, DUTHION B, ZIV JC; The Sapin Law and its effects on tendering competition
in public transport in France, Thredbo 6, 1999.
First name: Benoît
Name : THOMÉ
Organisation : CERTU - France
Adress : 9 rue Juliette Recamier - 69456 - LYON cedex 06 - France
Tel: 00 33 4 72 74 58 47
Fax: 00 33 4 72 74 59 20