Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Figaro on the French train strike

The recent strikes have revealed something very interesting about the French rail system.

According to Figaro's Christian Gerondeau, not many people use it.

Politicians and media pundits warned darkly that the railway stoppage would bring France to its knees, but it didn't turn out like that. Parisian commuters found it a nuisance, but in the rest of the country, where most people drive to work anyway, 90% said they hardly noticed it.

This should make us think long and hard about the amount of taxpayers' money used to prop up our railways. Receipts from train travel account for just 5% of what we as a nation spend on cars and lorries, yet the state pumps an annual 12 billion Euros into it, more than it would cost to buy every single rail user a brand new car every year.

What's more, in the Ile de France, the French state actually bans coach services which compete with the trains: if that ban were lifted the number of train travellers would dwindle even further.

Yet we spend more money to sustain a transport service hardly anyone uses than we spend on our desperately underfunded universities. If the strike makes us see sense about this 'profligate waste' it will have done the country a service.

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