Public passenger transport in French cities is dominated by some strong characteristics:
• Presence of intercommunal transport authorities
• With full responsibility of public transport activities
• Including financing based on a specific resource,
• Transport services being delegated to private operators after competitive tendering through integrated contracts.
1. The legislative framework organising public passenger transport in France is in place since the 80’s and has been progressively completed. Competencies are shared between four levels: the national State, responsible for long distance rail lines, the Region, in charge of regional rail services, the Département, responsible for interurban and school transport and cities, in charge of urban transit.
2. One dominant characteristic of the French transport system is the presence of a strong decentralisation with local authorities fully empowered to manage public transit, together with the presence of a densely populated capital region, the Île-de-France, concentrating a big part of the economic wealth and of transport investments.
3. Today, urban public transport represents altogether some 143 transport companies serving 30 million urban inhabitants, carrying 5,3 billion passenger/year and employing 89 185 people.
4. Financing public passenger transport is mainly, if not exclusively, the task of local authorities with three main sources: passenger revenues, local financial resources and a specific levy on economic activities, the transport tax or “versement de transport”. This tax is to be paid by each company or administration located on the territory of the agglomeration, with 9 or more employees, and is based on the payroll amount. The percentage of this tax is varying according to the size of the city and the type of projects planed. Thanks to this resource, it has been possible to build some 23 new light rail and metro systems in France since the 80’s.
5. The French State, apart from subsidising heavily, together with the Île-de-France Region, transport systems of the capital conurbation (12 million inhabitants), does not support transit authorities in Province cities. Only recently, environmental considerations have changed this attitude but national Government’s participation to investments outside Paris remains very low key.
6. Cost increase of transport operations together with a stagnation of commercial revenues have led to look for other resources to be found in companies’ and operations’ efficiency, service attractivity and fares increase. Development of net cost contracts (70%, outside Paris Region) and entrepreneurial initiative are being more and more considered.
7. New ways of investments financing are on their way on the legislative agenda: internalisation of external costs being one of the most probable options, as well as adoption of PPPs schemes with BOT contracts.