What Public Transport Mode May Be Chosen for Regional Services with Low Traffic Flow ? A Comparative Analysis Between Train and Coach Services in France.

What Public Transport Mode May Be Chosen for Regional Services with Low Traffic Flow ? A Comparative Analysis Between Train and Coach Services in France.


HASIAK Sophie, Cerema (Center of Studies and Expertise on Risks, Environment, Mobility and Town and Country Planning) - Territorial Division for the Northern and Picardie Regions, RABAUD Mathieu, Cerema (Center of Studies and Expertise on Risks, Environme


This paper suggests a comparative analysis of the relevant mode for regional services. Over the socio-economic topic, it proposes to consider in the modal choice debate an environmental assessment and the modal preferences of individuals.


Since the French decentralisation process of regional railway services in 2002, the Regions have become the competent authorities for the organization of regional transport services. They are responsible for defining the public regional transport service consistency, that is to say routes, operating mode (railway or road service), level of service and pricing.

Since 2002, the regional transport policies have been built on the basis of a service supply development, especially for the regional railway services. Thus, the services have been restructured, for some of them strengthened. The pricing ranges have been expanded and moreover heavy financial investments have been made for the renewal of rolling stock.

But, in the current difficult economic situation that endure all European countries, and considering the large budgetary constraints for local authorities as well as for the State, a political debate has been opened in France about the more relevant mode for regional services with low traffic.
Thus, in 2009, in its report about the decentralisation process of regional railway services, the Court of Auditors, as a French structure in charge of ensuring the proper use of public funds, raised the issue of a potential transfer of some rail services on the road network. This proposal goal was to reach a better economic, financial and environmental cost-effectiveness of the transport supply by changing the operating mode of specific links.
Since 2009, this debate has been at the heart of lively discussions among the various French associative or political structures.

In order to help local authorities in their decision-making process for this issue, the Cerema worked on a methodological approach that could be adopted for a comparative analysis of a regional service supply according the operating mode (by train or by coach). It focused on low traffic links.
This study had been led by the territorial division for the Northern and Picardie Regions under the steering of the technical divisions " Transport Infrastructures " and " Territorial development and urban planning". It is based on the three pillars of sustainable development. Thus, over the traditional approaches of this topic, which are mainly focused on socio-economic evaluations (relation between costs and attendance), this work suggests to broaden the debate about the modal choice (train or coach) by taking into account the environmental assessment of this choice (greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption) and by considering the modal aspirations and preferences of individuals.

Based on an analysis of data, of actors strategies and also of foreign situations, this study has highlighted that there is no critical threshold in terms of attendance or train flows that may define the necessity to consider a transfer of a regional service from the railway network to the road network. On the contrary, it emphasizes the importance of studying each case because the geographical environment and the services challenges are different.

Besides, it has also confirmed that there still remains some grey areas in the knowledge of French regional rail services costs. That may be explained by the french railway organisation, with a virtual monopoly of the French historical railway operator, the SNCF. For now, the literature review concurs to highlight the difficulty to assess the costs of low traffic railway lines.

Finally, considering the “coach-bashing” in the French local political debates, and the image of modernity of a railway system, this work leads us to look more closely at the mode choice process made by individuals. Indeed, it suggests to go beyond the usual debate in terms of technical criteria of travel time and cost in order to take into account the way of reasoning of individuals. Especially, it proposes to consider the issue of the modes perception and representation. Indeed, the challenge of a such approach is to identify the levers for action on behaviors and communication.

This kind of resistance for implementing coach regional services as an alternative of railway services is probably not specific to France and might be found in other countries. The main issue that arises is to know the way to find some solutions to act on political and individual behavors.


Association for European Transport