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The price is right for Rhonexpress in Lyon

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By Luc Citrinot, eTN | Dec 30, 2010

The price is right for Rhonexpress in Lyon

LYON (eTN) - A wind of revolt is blowing on Facebook and other local websites in Lyon lashing at the new express tramway, Rhonexpress, which since August links France’s second largest city to the airport. Rhonexpress is a dedicated transport system, which links in less than 30 minutes, Lyon’s main rail station in La Part-Dieu to St. Exupery airport, located 25 km away. According to the local online magazine Lyon-capitale.fr, the new service is among the most expensive in Europe. Still, according to the website, Rhonexpress fare per km stands at €0.46, far ahead of other French airports such as Paris CDG (€0.16/km), Marseille (€0.17/km), or Lille (€0.40/km), while it is only surpassed in Europe by Rome (€0.67/km) and London Heathrow (€0.63/km).

The 46% rise of the single ticket between Lyon city center and the airport (€13 for Rhonexpress, compared to €8.90 for the previous coach service Satobus) was accompanied by the cancellation of the bus service, which offered a wider range of bus stops on the way to the airport. Veolia - the private concessionaire running Rhonexpress for a 30-year term - benefits de facto from a monopoly situation.

According to local journalists, municipal or regional authorities will not authorize any new bus operator wishing to offer a cheaper alternative, a rather unusual situation at a European airport where various means of public transportation are generally proposed. The contract signed between the Conseil General (the administrative authorities for the Rhone District where Lyon is located) and Veolia stipulates that “during the time of concession, the authorities will neither organize nor encourage a public transport service competing directly with Leslys [the previous name for Rhonexpress].”

Asked why the fare rose by 46% and is now the most expensive in France, Rhonexpress Director Luc Borgna replied that Veolia does not benefit from any subvention from public institutions and that the fare is the only resource to balance for the cost of managing the tramway and the risk linked to a new means of transportation. “The fare was approved during the concession bid, and it is the right amount to help [in] balancing our books,” he explained. However, the risk remains minimal as Veolia did not invest into the infrastructure already paid by various public authorities through a credit offered to the concessionaire. According to the Conseil General, total investment reached €120 million of which 49.45% was payed by regional authorities, the rest being on credit.

Fares are due to rise each year in June. Infuriated by the sharp increase in costs, some users have created various protest sites on Facebook and the web and calls for a boycott of the service or for the development of prebooked car-sharing services. But Rhonexpress management does not seem to be deterred by travelers’ discontent. “A poll conducted in November shows 94% satisfaction among surveyed persons,” added Mr. Borgna.

Although the tramway offers more seating capacity than previous busses and increased comfort, stations at both la Part Dieu Station and the airport are far from offering the expected service for such an expensive public transport. Testing the tramway, the first available trolleys were only at disposal at the end of the high-speed train platform, almost a 10-minute walk away from the tramway platform. And it needs another Euro for use. Despite the contrary affirmed by Mr. Borgna, signage to the station is not very visible. Worst, it takes some 10 minutes to reach the air terminal as travelers must go all along the high speed train platform before reaching the rail station’s exit. "The current tramway stop is provisory. Before the summer time, a dedicated quay will arrive right in the heart of St. Exupery Airport rail station, and it will be equipped with two elevators and escalators,” justified Mr. Borgna. A perfect opportunity to increase prices again.



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