Road Transport Services Organized by French “regions”. A Contribution to the Rail Vs. Road Debate

Road Transport Services Organized by French “regions”. A Contribution to the Rail Vs. Road Debate


David Dubois, CEREMA - Direction Territoriale Centre-Est, Isabelle Treve-Thomas, CEREMA - Direction Technique Territoires Et Ville


This paper analyzes the scope of application for rail and road transport services for interurban services through the example of french “regions”. It sets out an assessment about the way how they use road services to supplement the rail services.


In France, the administrative “regions” are well known for being the transport authorities responsible for regional trains – usually called “TER”. From the year 1997, seven regions have been experimenting with the transfer from the State of the organization of the regional rail services. This transfer became effective by the law for all regions in 2002.

However, the regions are also responsible for interurban regional road services since more than thirty years. But these services do not usually appear in the focus of regional transport policies that have been for many years focused on rail services. Moreover, while regional rail services appear to be relatively well known, there is a lack of knowledge about regional road public services. Differentiation between this offer and road transport services provided by french “departements” – or even road services falling within the competence of the state – is not obvious at first.

In 2009, in the context of economical crisis, the french institute charged of with conducting financial and legislative audits of public institutions suggested that the routes with a low attendance should be rather supplied by road services than by rail services. The question of the modal choice is particularly important for french regions, who want to develop sustainable transport offers in a context of costs reduction. The crucial stake for them consists not only in controlling the financial cost of rail services, but also in knowing the scope of application of each mode.

What forms do these regional road services take today? What territories do they serve? How are they integrated into the regional public transport network? How are they connected to regional rail services or others road services? This paper provides elements of response using two different approaches.

In the first stage, the study analyses the french regulations and legislation. Since more than 30 years and the first decentralization laws, legislative and regulatory developments have resulted in a very complex legal framework. The french transport code that replaced in 2010 the reference transport organization law and many others laws, has not clarified the situation. This papers highlights how regional road transport services are defined and details its modes of governance.

In the second stage, a benchmark of road transport services organized by several metropolitan regions yields a lot of knowledge. From an exhaustive analysis of road public transport services implemented in these régions, this paper explains how regulations have been interpreted in different ways by the regions. It shows that regional road transport services includes a wide variety of services, sometimes created by the regions as transport authorities, sometimes inherited from lines established several decades ago and integrated in the regional transport supply. Although this benchmark is not exhaustive, this paper sets out proposal for a segmentation of regional road services into three main types, based on the existence or not of rail services on the route.

Finally, it contributes to the rail vs. road debate, by helping the regions to define their regional services and to chose between the two modes.


Association for European Transport