No Ticket To Ride

No ticket to ride

Paris metro free riders have their own insurance funds

Free-riders using the Paris Metro have set up their own “mutuelles” or risk insurance funds — a common pool to meet their fines whenever they are nabbed for their ticket-less travel zeal (which authorities insist is fraud).

A report in Le Parisien says there are now ten mutuelles specialising in this type of “travel cover” in Paris. It quotes a long-time mutuelliste, identified only as “Christopher”, as saying the kitty setup is generally modest.

Wary about commenting on ticket-less travel in general because encouragement to break the law is a crime, he did admit the cost of “premiums” in the scheme were low. “The principle is simple: each member of the mutuelle makes a monthly contribution of between €5 and €7 and fines are then paid out of the collective pool”, he said, directly echoing the working of any traditional mutual insurer.

Clearly lacking any merger and acquisition ambitions “Christopher” noted: “Our mutuelle has steadfastly refused to become a mega-mutuelle. We don’t want to be seen as some type of large claims office where people just come to have their fines paid. There is more to our movement than merely helping people out when they get caught.”

So what separates the mutelliste free-riders with an insurance policy from your common-or-garden ticket refusenik? Answer: the former claim to be a pressure group for free public transport.

Asked why they refuse to buy tickets on public transport the mutellistes response is that just as schooling and health care are free “we say public transport too should be accessible to all without distinction, therefore free”.

The RATP (the publically-owned Métro, Tramway, RER, Bus network for the capital) now finds itself shadowed by a private sector rival – RATP (Réseau pour l’abolition des transports payants) the Abolition of Transport Charges Network, set up in 2001. And RATP (the no-pay version) backs up its arguments with figures from transport experts who note that the price of a ticket meets just 30% of the budget of RATP (the yes-pay version) and asserts that this is “barely enough to offset the cost of the ticket inspectorate.” (A Paris metro ticket costs up to €1.70 which free-riders claim is high compared to the average €1 in other European cities – clearly they’ve never been stung by the €5.28 cost of the Tube ride from Heathrow to central London.)

The Paris Metro says fraudsters account for 4.2% of all users of the network, 6.2% of bus passengers within Paris, and 9.5% of long distance bus commuters. RATP, the combined Paris urban transport operator, says it has 968 agents on the network inspecting passengers for valid tickets. The mutuellists say the cost of catching them is much higher than the cost of the tickets they decline to buy. The losses incurred by RATP with no-ticket riders presently represent just 4% of the operators’ EUR 80 million revenue. Total passenger revenue (EUR 2 billion) covers only 30% of total public transport operating costs in the Ile -de-France region.

Not what it looks like

Yes its the former French President and one-time Paris Mayor but No it's not what it seems

Another side to this story relates to the growing strength of the free public transport supporters, which grew out of the car-free movement.

The demand for free public transport first surfaced in Belgium. Some French towns, like Aubagne, or Coulomiers Vitre, have already “socialized” the cost of transport, and their public systems are free of charge.

Since 2001 Chateauxroux has stopped charging for public transport after calculating that ticket payments were a marginal percentage of total transport cost. Chateauroux is not alone. The city of Compiegne has provided free transport services for 33 years.

Starting 2006 the Ile-de-France region — 11.7 million inhabitants and the leading region of French — opted gradually to introduce free public transport for the unemployed and those on minimum wages, the SMIC.

Last word to Philippe Touzet, director general of SUD-RATP, “these actions (by free riders) may be interesting as a way of stoking debate on free transport, but they weaken the system. Because if the person at the end of the chain, does not pay for a ticket, it just means fewer buses, on a service that is already under-supplied. “

Story: Ken Pottinger

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