French railways provide an excellent and fast rail service, particularly between cities served by the TGV. France is also served by excellent international and domestic airline services and extensive international ferry services along its north coast. On the negative side, bus and rail services are poor or non-existent in rural areas (although the provision of public transport has recently been improved by the amalgamation of neighbouring communes into agglomérations), and it’s generally essential to have your own transport if you live in the country.
Paris has one of the most efficient, best integrated and cheapest public transport systems of any major city in the world. In addition to its world-famous métro, public transport services include the RER express rail system, an extensive suburban rail network and comprehensive bus services; a tram service, due to open at the end of 2006, will cover 8km of southern Paris and have 19 stops (the capital’s original tram network, closed in 1937, had over 1,000km of track!). Other cities have similar systems, and several have reintroduced trams in recent years.
Most cities are moving towards more ‘ecological’ public transport systems, with for example buses running on biofuel or batteries, and encouraging or even obliging people to use them by restricting the circulation of private vehicles.
Thanks to government subsidies, however, public transport is generally inexpensive, although this doesn’t stop the French from complaining about the cost. Various commuter and visitor discount tickets are also available.
Students visiting or living in France should obtain an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) and non-students an International Youth Card (IYC), which offer young people a range of travel discounts. They’re available from most student travel offices and student organisations. The French Government Tourist Office publishes a booklet, France Youth Travel, for those aged under 26.
A number of local and regional organisations in France offer a carte jeune, which entitles the holder to discounts on local transport (and in some cases driving lessons) as well as entertainment.