How the car imposes itself on the outskirts of large urban centers

On foot, by bicycle, 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, “World Cities” went into the field to meet users and experts. Reports and studies are available in podcasts and in writing in the series “A neighborhood in the city”. Fourth section of this case: the car.

In Saint-Quentin (Aisne), the bus subscription costs 33 euros per month while they remain free of the unemployed. Christophe (who did not want to give his last name) could benefit if he did not live in Harly, the neighboring town. The Hauts-de-France region, where he lives, offers a 75% reduction on train tickets for several categories of people, including “non-taxable jobseekers who have exhausted their entitlements”, of which this 50-year-old is a part. But the steps have to be done online, an operation that discourages him.

Christophe does not have a car and no longer has a driver’s license. His wife has been hospitalized for several months in Guise, 30 kilometers from his home. To visit him, Saint-Quentinois asks his neighbors or his parents to drive him. For shopping, it is on foot at the neighborhood supermarket. But the big Auchan in Saint-Quentin is too far: you have to take one bus and then another, and the schedule is not coordinated.

For Christophe, and so many other people living outside the big cities, the “neighbourhood city model”, where all services are available within fifteen minutes, by bike or on foot, remains precarious. In what is traditionally called suburban France, a string of small dormitory towns along a former national road, a residential area far from a city center, the outer ring of a thriving metropolis, we are far away. Far from city centers. Far from their self-service scooters, their electric scooters, their flying taxis. And at the mercy of life’s vagaries, the engine fails, the employer moves the company’s premises, the intercity bus unexpectedly cancels.

Fatigue and mental strain

This is the situation experienced by users of the T86 bus in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region since April, which connects Allevard (Isère) with Grenoble in one hour. A fire damaged a bridge crossing the Isère, now closed to traffic. The route was rerouted and the trip was extended by thirty to forty minutes, depending on traffic jams. Katia Sandraz boarded this bus every morning to go to her job as a civil servant in Grenoble. Now she would rather borrow “another bus past Pontcharra, half an hour away by car. Since there is no parking next to the stop, I have to add a six-minute walk”, she testifies. A group of users, who had been demanding a change in routes and timetables since the spring, were given two direct buses in the morning and evening. Insufficient, they say. “We have the impression that the region is playing the strategy in small steps until the bridge returns to use, scheduled for December.”they testify.

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The “urban galley”, which in 2018 swelled the ranks of “yellow vests”, thus covers a diversity of situations that cannot be reduced to the question of the price of fuel. In a landscape dominated by suburbs, designed by and for the car, the smallest mistake is paid in euros, but also in time, fatigue, mental strain.

Also, driving is not for everyone. According to the Keoscopie mobility observatory, run by the aviation company Keolis, 32% of drivers give up driving at night, 26% in rain, while 30% seek to avoid having to do slots. Some of these intermittent drivers are elderly, but not all. In France, 18% of people over the age of 15 suffer from a long-term condition that limits their mobility.

Public transport, an “obstacle course”

Added to these personal difficulties is the bad reputation of options other than the single motorized vehicle, notes Michel Magniez, Environment Deputy of the Mayor (LR) of Saint-Quentin. “Here, most discussions about mobility are about the price of petrol and the car, even though a third of the households in the city do not have one. Using public transport is seen as an obstacle course”regrets the chosen one.

In many medium-sized cities, the buses do not run very often, and even less during the school holidays

And with good reason. In many medium-sized cities, the buses do not run very often, and even less during the school holidays. Intercity bus timetables are sometimes difficult to consult, online or even at the stop, where they are printed on an A4 sheet slipped into a plastic bag that gets wet… The smartphone is not always the future mobility tool that becomes praised by transport operators. According to Keoscopie, only half of the population would be able to organize their trips thanks to dedicated digital applications.

The Mobility Orientation Act (LOM), which was adopted during the previous five-year period, attempts to provide credible answers. The text allows since 2021, “community to subsidize carpooling”explains Julien Honnart, who created the Klaxit application in 2012. Thirty-five local authorities give each driver an amount of 2 to 4 euros per trip. trip.

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The effects of the measure are already being felt. Between September 2021 and June 2022, the number of people transported increased from 159,000 to 408,000, according to the carpooling observatory, set up by the state. Among the most active communities are “Rouen, Montpellier and Beauvais”states Julien Honnart, who specifies, to cut short any bad trial, that, “Taking into account the kilometers driven, a carpool financed by society costs two to ten times less than if it were done by public transport”.

Worked closer to bedtime

However, carpooling cannot solve everything, notes Laure Wagner, former head of Blablacar, a leader in the sector: “Between 1960 and 2018, the number of kilometers traveled by each person to go to work increased from 3 to 13 kilometers. The real problem is that we move too much! » In 2019, Laure Wagner founded 1 km on foot to help employees bring their work closer to home. “In such diverse sectors of activity as catering, personal services, security or mass distribution, companies have several locations. And shop owners, technicians, salespeople sometimes work far from home when there is a similar position nearby”she explains.

At Loxam, a professional equipment rental company with 11,000 employees, “74% of employees could work in a company closer to home. The average gain per employee reaches 11 kilometers morning and evening”, details of the founder of 1 km on foot. These time savings make life easier for both employers and their employees, Laure Wagner continues: “People who work closer to home are less absent and cultivate more friendly bonds with their colleagues”. The virtues of the rediscovered neighborhood.

“A neighborhood in the city” is a project of World, produced with support from Toyota on the occasion of European Mobility Week. Article: Olivier Razemon. Computer graphics: Mathilde Costil, Eugénie Dumas, Sylvie Gittus-Pourrias, Marianne Pasquier. Podcast: Marjolaine Koch. Voice-over: Emmanuel Davidenkoff. Direction: 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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