The French government is set to finance an expansion and improvement of its rail sector to the tune of €100 million ($110 million) and has decided to do it by increasing the tax on airline tickets. After its recent introduction of banning short-haul flights under 2.5 hours, this is a new phase in encouraging domestic train travel over air travel to meet its environmental targets.
The French transport minister, Clément Beaune, told the radio station RMC that people often say they are surprised by how much less plane travel costs than train travel. Beaune told Le Parisien that people who pay more for travel are usually those that are less sensitive to price increases—the implication being that the rise will be passed onto business travelers and those who buy the more expensive airfares and on those tickets where the airlines make more profit.
There is already a tax on airline tickets but this will be increased to invest more in the railways. President Chirac introduced an airline tax in 2005 and it was increased in 2020 to €3 for coach class and €18 for a business or first class fares.
The measure is part of a wider plan to reduce carbon emissions across all sectors, not just travel, and will be introduced in the 2024 budget. Across Europe, there are discussions to introduce a kerosene tax and Beaune confirmed this is moving forward but it needs to have agreement of all member states to become a reality. Beaune told reporters that there was no point in having a kerosene tax in France but not in Germany or Italy, but that it would be agreed in a number of months.
In July, a Greenpeace report highlighted how the cost of train travel across Europe is anywhere between two times and four times the cost of flying. It examined 112 European routes between major cities in 27 countries and the U.K., and found that flights were cheaper on seven out of ten of the routes (79 out of the 112). Routes to and from the U.K. were the most expensive from Europe. In the study, researchers found that taking the train from Barcelona to London was 10 times more than the plane and 30 times more when booked at short notice.
Europe is investing heavily in its rail networks with several new lines operating across borders—Spain’s national railway, Renfe, recently reintroduced a €19 fare for one-way between Marseille in the south of France and the Spanish capital, Madrid, an 8-hour train journey. Many companies have worked through some of the more challenging issues around different sized train tracks from country to country—new rolling stock can adapt to the gauge change, as well to the different heights of platforms at different stations and the different voltages it finds along the way.
This lack of standardisation, sometimes even within countries, has been a big issue for the expansion of railways throughout Europe, as was the case with recent Spanish investment in the rail sector that miscalculated the size of tunnels, gauge and trains on intended routes.
In April, France made it a legal requirement that plane journeys were not allowed if a rail route exists of under 2.5 hours. This was part of the agreement during the bailout of AirFrance during the pandemic and whilst it has many flaws, it is widely seen as a first step to tackling carbon emissions from the travel sector.
Beaune also suggested that there might be an increase in tax on private jets, a recent battleground between the government and environmentalists, as many of Europe’s private jets can be found traveling down to the south of France.