How the suburbs juggle transport

On foot, by bike, by public transport, by car or by train. What does French mobility look like? And what can they do fifteen minutes from home? On the occasion of European Mobility Week, "The World Cities" went out into the field to meet users and experts. Reports and investigations to be found in podcast and in writing in the series “A quarter of an hour in town”. Third episode of this dossier: public transport.

Every quarter of an hour, every morning, a double-decker train capable of containing 2,000 people departs from Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines station (Yvelines) in the direction of Montparnasse station in Paris. On days when she does not sit on this train, it is also in a quarter of an hour that Caroline Klein goes around the shops and services in her neighborhood – “bakery, small supermarket, pharmacy, post office, hairdresser, bank, restaurant…”, explains this resident of Montigny-le-Bretonneux (on the territory of the new town of Saint-Quentin) who works in Levallois-Perret (Hauts-de-Seine), 30 kilometers from her home.

In the greater Ile-de-France crown, it is as if there were two clocks – two complementary quarters of an hour: on one side, the suburban town and its facilities accessible in fifteen minutes on foot and, further on, the hypermarket , still fifteen minutes away, but by car; on the other, the station and its promise of fast but loaded trains heading towards Paris, an attractive center which concentrates jobs and professional opportunities.

Nearly 5.4 million inhabitants live in the four departments of the greater Ile-de-France crown (Seine-et-Marne, Yvelines, Essonne, Val-d'Oise), which are recording the strongest demographic growth in the region. This "remote suburb", as it is often called, concentrates some of the poorest cities in France, a few privileged municipalities which are among the richest, but is mainly made up of suburban neighborhoods with average incomes.

If the slightest innovation likely to revolutionize mobility in Paris is abundantly commented on, if the inner suburbs are streaked by the extensions of the metro lines, the tramway and, soon, the Grand Paris Express supermetro, in the outer suburbs, public transport can be summed up essentially to the precious Transilien or RER which serve the capital. Local buses complete the offer, but their route is designed to serve each block as closely as possible, which is why they zigzag painfully through residential streets.

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The rail link concentrates all the concerns. Users fear, on winter days, the cold which can seize the engines, wet autumns, when the trains slip on the dead leaves, and the heat wave, when the RERs run at idle speed to limit the effects of the expansion of the catenaries. . Summer is also the season for work "of regeneration", as the SNCF says. For several weeks, lines are totally or partially replaced by “substitute bus”less comfortable and subject to traffic jams. “We have suffered summer cuts for several years without ever noticing the positive effects of the work. They just help prevent the line from deteriorating”deplores Caroline Klein, member of the association for the defense of users More trains, very upset against “the decisions that for decades favored the TGV to the detriment of everyday transport”.

Deleted trains

The trains that connect Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines to Montparnasse in twenty-five minutes remain fewer than before the pandemic. "Services were removed during the day, at times considered "off-peak", and never restored", laments Caroline Klein. Ile-de-France Mobilités, which depends on the region, ensures that "the transport offer reaches 95% of that of 2019" and justifies the cuts by the development of teleworking, which would lower demand. "Of course, when we remove trains, people take them less"quips the resident of Montigny-le-Bretonneux.

Since September 2021, the RER B has been serving more stations during peak hours, which has caused the route to be extended.

Otherwise, "on certain lines, stops have been added at the request of the inhabitants, which, from the point of view of the outer suburbs, lengthens the route to Paris", observes Marc Pélissier, president of the Association of transport users (AUT) in Ile-de-France. Thus, since September 2021, the RER B has been serving more stations at peak times, which has caused the route to be extended by three minutes from Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse (Yvelines).

Read our interview (May 2019): Article reserved for our subscribers "Along line B of the RER, socio-spatial inequalities have worsened and can be read everywhere"

These hazards would almost make you forget the exceptional efficiency of the Ile-de-France public transport network. When all is well, all the stations in the region are served, even in the east or south of Seine-et-Marne, by at least one train per hour, from dawn to late evening, every days of the year, including holidays. The system is equivalent to that which exists, on a national scale, in Germany or Switzerland.

Increased dependence on the automobile

But, if the network shared by the SNCF and the RATP captivates the attention of users, trips from the outer suburbs to Paris remain very much in the minority. According the 2018 Ile-de-France global transport survey, there are 1.3 million every day, compared to 15 million journeys within the outer suburbs. And these, for the most part, are done by car. Painfully. The hours lost in traffic jams, already on the rise before the pandemic, have increased further since 2020 (excluding confinements), according to the monthly dashboard of the Paris Region Institute. If the dependence on the automobile is explained by the poor connections from suburb to suburb by means of public transport – a sea serpent in the Ile-de-France region –, it also owes a lot to the increasing dispersion of places of employment, consumption and habitat.

Therefore, a question arises, to this day iconoclast: why further stimulate the development of a region where real estate prices are driven by those of the capital and where mobility conditions are deteriorating from year to year? Like many Ile-de-France executives, Caroline Klein knows why she is there: “It's in the Paris region that you can find interesting and, what's more, long-term work. »

Ile-de-France growth does not only make people happy. Across the region, movements are mobilizing against "concreting"

But growth in the Ile-de-France does not just make people happy. Throughout the region, movements are mobilizing against “concreting”. In the 2020 municipal elections, many mayors were defeated for this reason. In Montigny-lès-Cormeilles (Val-d'Oise), the inhabitants of the city center place posters on the facade of their homes to denounce real estate projects. In Argenteuil, in the same department, a committee of residents opposes the construction of a real estate and commercial complex on the banks of the Seine.

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For Vianney Delourme, founder of the Enlarge your Paris site, which seeks to highlight places of interest in Ile-de-France, "the concept of attractiveness of the region must be rewritten". According to him, land pressure ends up weighing on the quality of life. Gold, "the outer suburbs, a wonderful natural space, is first seen as a land reserve", he believes. A reserve at the service of Paris and its ambitions.

“A quarter of an hour in town” is a project of World, produced with the support of Toyota on the occasion of European Mobility Week. Article: Olivier Razemon. Podcast: Marjolaine Koch. Computer graphics: Mathilde Costil, Eugénie Dumas, Sylvie Gittus-Pourrias, Marianne Pasquier. Voice-over: Emmanuel Davidenkoff. Directed by: Josefa Lopez, Eyeshot. Proofreading: Isabelle Hennebelle, Laëtitia Van Eeckhout. Publisher: Guillemette Echalier. Correction: Graphic identity: Marianne Pasquier, Mélina Zerbib. Partnership: Sonia Jouneau, Marianne Wachowiak.

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