Beyond the Olympics, the transport challenge in Ile-de-France

OApart from the very organization of sporting events, transport will be, along with security, the area which will partly determine the success of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The capital is preparing to welcome daily, from July 26 to August 11, nearly 1 million additional visitors, who are invited to take the bus, metro and train to minimize the carbon footprint of this event. But between the promises of the application file, submitted in 2015, and the construction of the infrastructure, nine years later, the gap is significant.

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It would be tempting to see the glass half empty by pointing to what will not be completed, such as the Charles-de-Gaulle-Express, which was to connect Roissy airport to the Gare de l’Est, or the lines 16 and 17. There is no doubt that the initial ambitions were disproportionate to the timetable set. Wanting to integrate into the Olympic project all the infrastructures provided for in the State-region plan contract and in the Greater Paris law was a mission impossible.

No Western metropolis has carried out underground works of this magnitude simultaneously. The procrastination, following the political alternations, for ten years, in the face of costs which have continued to spiral out of control and the lengthening of delivery times for rolling stock, has finally prevented a miracle from happening.

Random regularity

Although the hazards were inevitable, the prospect of the Olympic Games nevertheless made it possible to accelerate and complete part of the infrastructure essential to the smooth running of the event. This is the case for line 14, linking Saint-Denis to Orly. Without the deadline for the Games, this technological feat would undoubtedly not have been possible on time. In the home stretch, the challenge of its full commissioning is vital. But, five months before the opening ceremony, the completion of most of the modernization of the Ile-de-France network is within reach.

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On the other hand, there is perhaps more concern to be had about the activity of the network itself, both at RATP and at SNCF. Repeated malfunctions and the random regularity of services are already poisoning the daily lives of Ile-de-France residents. Added to decades of underinvestment were the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, which profoundly disrupted the sector. During periods of confinement, loss of revenue prompted a reduction in supply and a halt to recruitment. The strong resumption of travel was very poorly anticipated, thus catching carriers on the wrong foot.

In addition, this chaotic exit from Covid coincides with the prospect of the sector opening up to competition. Employees are asked to work more, with greater hours, in an exacerbated context of understaffing and absenteeism, all with inflation which is eroding purchasing power. Finally, the entry into force of the end of employment status makes careers less attractive.

At RATP as at SNCF, management is trying to overcome this latent social crisis by distributing bonuses and accelerating hiring, in order to get through the Olympics deadline without any problems. What will happen after? Some unions are already talking about a social “third half”. In the fall, work on an aging network will resume, agents will take en masse the leave they have agreed to postpone and the understaffing will not be completely absorbed. Ultimately, the Olympic period might not be the most difficult period to overcome.

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