Free transport in the Nîmes metropolitan area: for Franck Proust, “we cannot have everything, it’s impossible”

Free transport in the Nîmes metropolitan area: for Franck Proust, “we cannot have everything, it’s impossible”

For Franck Proust, it is necessary to invest in the network before thinking about free access. Midi Libre – MiKAEL ANISSET

While the mayor of Montpellier Michaël Delafosse responded to the call from the local PS to come and talk about the free transport implemented in his Metropolis, an update on this issue with the president of the Agglo from Nîmes, Franck Proust.

The Montpellier Metropolis has made its transport free for all its residents since last December. Why is this not the case in Nîmes?

I am on a completely different topology of territory: I have urban, peri-urban, even rural with the East-Gardonnenque, the extreme west or the north of my town. Public transport here has nothing to do with Montpellier. Then, there is a denser economic fabric in Montpellier, which we are trying to catch up with by the arrival of new companies for example. But the volume of the transport payment which finances transport  in common is much more consistent in Montpellier. The financial effort that we would have to make would, consequently, be much greater.

You have also often made a political choice on this subject by evoking the idea that free service is never…hellip; free.

When we look at the studies, there are urban areas which have chosen free access and which have gone back, like in Lyon. In public transport items, according to the consumers' association, it's not free access that comes first, it's the quality of service! People want an appropriate service, that is to say, with hours adapted to their activities, transport that is safe, with comfortable equipment. Concerning free travel, for young people, we have an annual pass with unlimited journeys for 90 euros; per year. That's not even 7 € per month… We also have social tariffs which mean that today the price criterion is debatable.

And then, I have an economic equation: free does not exist. In Nîmes, when we look at the cost of transport in relation to revenue, transport is 83% free. I only charge users 17% of the actual cost. But the 8 to 10 M€ that I collect are used to renew my bus fleet, because there was a huge backlog that I have to make up for, with electric buses, using biogas. We will also set up small electric shuttles on narrow roads. But also links with multimodal platforms to serve eastern Gardonnenque and in connection with the PEM (multimodal exchange hub) of Générac to the south and that of Saint-Geniès. One of the priorities of the mandate is to have a structure of the public transport network that corresponds to something of the 21st century. We must manage to work on public transport, cycle paths and the train. When I'm in Saint-Geniès or Générac, I can reach Feuchères in 11 minutes, it's extraordinary. And if I can't have one bus per person, between shuttles, cycle paths and trains, I can have a network that meets the needs.

The major obstacle to the implementation of free access is therefore, for you, the fact of not having a network, for the time being, that meets the expectations of residents and therefore needing to have access to a free network. rsquo;invest.

Yes, there you go. And that my economic fabric is not sufficiently dense to allow me a kind of gratuity. For example, I provide a service to businesses: we have improved and will continue to serve industrial zones. Because companies, in return for a transport payment, must have a service for their employees. So we are going to build bicycle parks for last mile management. But all this comes at a cost. In 10-15 years, we may be able to measure or take the time to think about free service. But not now.

However, you intend to grant free admission to people over 70.

I consider that the bus becomes essential from this age, even if you have exceptions. Some people have no other choice. Especially with the level of pensions, we considered that it could be socially interesting.

You initially announced free access from age 65. Why did you go to 70 years old ?

In relation to my reasoning on health and with the duration of the extension of working hours, we see that the barrier is greater at age 70 than at 65. But the effort is still not negligible! This is an operation that costs between 800 and 900,000 euros. But it will be implemented from September 1st, that’s a given.

Is free access for young people planned ?

The maximum young people pay is 90 € throughout the year, I remind you. This is not a discriminating criterion for taking the bus.

When you say you prefer network quality and security rather than free access, does this mean that the two are irreconcilable, that it is not the case in Montpellier where transport is free ?

Usually you can't do everything. You can't do free, increase the fleet, increase the lines, increase the frequencies… There's a complicated equation.

You recently met the mayor of Montpellier Michaël Delafosse. Have you discussed its solution to this equation ?

Free access was not easy to implement in Montpellier and there is no feedback yet. But I'll say it again: some cities which implemented free access have gone back. Others have reduced hourly or line frequencies. We can't have everything, it's not possible. Especially today with the finances of local authorities. If you go completely free, it's to the detriment of what ? The investment envelope, apart from increasing taxes, I can't change it. I have a flood protection plan, I need to renovate water networks…hellip; At a given moment, these are choices, political choices.

More than 200 people at Costières to talk about free transport

"Free transport, if it’s a dry measure, it’s questionable. This must be accompanied by a paradigm shift." Last Tuesday, at the Costières stadium, in front of more than 200 people, the mayor of Montpellier Michaël Delafosse came to explain how the Montpellier Metropolis had undertaken the challenge of free access for its inhabitants. 60~/em>, started in September 2020, the year of his election, and finished last December, the Hérault elected official however warned of the obligation to precede this measure, with investments in the reliability of the network. While not neglecting the safety aspect and developing cycle paths and support for carpooling. Exchanges which nourished the thoughts of the organizers of this meeting: "We know that there is a long way to go, concedes Nicolas Nadal, departmental secretary of the Socialist Party. The transport tax from businesses is not as significant as in Montpellier, so this requires work on the budget. There is also the subject of services which must be developed." But for the activist, this conference also marked a "unity of the left Nîmes. This is not a "one shot" to create buzz, but rather joint work with the Environmentalists, the PRG and the Communist Party which will continue". And not just to talk about free transport. 

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