“Financial impasse”, insufficient government commitment, quality of service “To improve”… The Court of Auditors pinpoints in a report published on Tuesday April 20 the management of SNCF stations by Gares & Connexions, a subsidiary of SNCF.
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The service offer “Would benefit from being better defined, and the quality of the service provided improved”, judge the Court, citing “Indicators limited in number and sometimes not very relevant in their definition, (of) objectives that are still not very restrictive and […] a system of financial incentives whose effects remain weak ”.
A very variable service offer
According to the report, the quality of service varies greatly from one station to another: while 95% of large stations offer assistance services for people with disabilities, only 18% of small stations in the regions offer this service. The secondary network does not have wifi or lockers either, and only one in three stations has toilets.
Another point noted by the Court of Auditors, the lack of ambitious objectives, particularly in terms of cleanliness and hygiene, set by the company which manages more than 3,000 stations in the metropolitan area. According to the body, the state and the regions should set a target for the level of services they expect in the contracts.
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Finally, for a similar service, the Court noted significant differences in the cost of services depending on the station. In 2019, the cost of an assistance service for a person with reduced mobility varied from 15.87 euros to 62.41 euros between very large stations. Similarly, the cleaning service at the station cost between 16.71 euros and 89.24 euros per square meter, describes the report.
An opaque royalty system
In addition, the Court considers that the system of royalties is not enough “Transparent”.
“In principle, this economic model should allow the company to cover its operating costs and generate an operating margin to finance station investments. However, it suffers from several weaknesses that hamper its effectiveness. “
It considers this system to be unequal and too favorable to carriers, while Gares & Connexions’ limited financial leeway prevents it from fully investing. And, add the experts, when the company allies itself with private promoters, it is the latter who capture “A large part of the value generated by the projects”.
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Result: Gares & Connexions can no longer follow. “Heavily dependent on subsidies paid by local authorities, especially the regions, today it essentially manages to ensure the minimum maintenance of buildings and to respect its legal obligations in terms of accessibility. “
Hence the need to improve performance “To offer the best service to carriers and travelers at the best price”. The Court of Auditors also recommends a reform of the royalty system “To improve self-financing capacity” of the station manager.
Increase in state subsidies and transfer of ownership to the regions
Above all, it calls for an increase in state subsidies, in particular for the maintenance of historic buildings. “Today, the State does not take charge of the financing of obligations for which it is nevertheless responsible, for a heritage which belongs to it and of which Gares & Connexions is only affected”, she believes.
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To get out of this financial impasse, the Court of Auditors also recommends transferring ownership of a number of small stations to regional councils, which have already been organizing timetables and prices on the secondary network since 2012.
” Such a development would be consistent with the reality of the financing of investments in these stations, which is today largely supported by the regions, even though they have not decided on these investments themselves. “