Key points

Candidate Macron defended a paradigm shift from a reasoning centered on infrastructure to a logic focused on services. He called for a transport policy based on daily mobility, which would thus seize the opportunities offered by new technologies.

France possesses a particularly consequent, yet ageing, transport network, in a financial context that makes the revision of its funding model mandatory. The interruption of major infrastructure projects to finance the modernization of existing infrastructure was put forward in Emmanuel Macron’s program. The renewal of the transport policy was justified – according to the candidate – by the necessity to improve the quality of the service provided to citizens, and not by existing financial constraints.

In order to prioritize needs and to ensure projects’ financial sustainability, the government is drafting a law on the orientation of infrastructure. Its multiannual program is defined in close collaboration with the Council of Infrastructure’s Orientation (COI), which was launched by the government in October 2017.

To conduct these reforms, the government referred to broad consultations and to recommendations from experts in the field (Mobility Conferences, Aerial Conferences, etc.). It excluded the use of ordinances for some topics (e.g. the opening to competition planned in the SNCF national railway reform) and kept it as an option for others (e.g. the status of railworkers).

Key numbers

  • In France, in 2016, transit costs represented 17.3% of GDP, or €386 billion, half of it covered by households. In 2015, transport funding by public administrations represented €43.7 billion for both operating costs and investments.
  • Around 76% of transit costs are dedicated to roads, 8% to rail, 6% to collective transport (urban and intercity buses), 7% to aerial transport, the rest was used for waterway and maritime transport.
  • France benefits from a particularly important transport network (1.078M km/0.62M miles of roads in metropolitan France versus 0.417M/0.259M miles in the United Kingdom and 29,000 km/18,019 mi of rail against 17,000/10,563 mi). The French railway is the second longest in Europe after that of Germany, and is similar to it in terms of density.
  • In 2015, 928 billion passengers-kilometers had been carried across the French territory: 738 billion in individual cars, 105 billion in trains, and 85 billion in buses or planes.

Key dates

19 september 2017

Beginning of the consultation of the National Mobility Conferences

september 2017

13 december 2017

Closing of the National Conferences on Mobility

december 2017

17 january 2018

Project abandonment of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport

january 2018

15 february 2018

Conclusions of the consultation mission on the future of national railway (SNCF) by 2030

february 2018

20 february 2018

Launch of the consultation on the national railway (SNCF) reform

22 february 2018

Government announcements for the Grand Paris project

14 march 2018

Introduction of a Bill to legislate by ordinance on the reform national railway (SNCF) reform

march 2018

20 march 2018

Air transport Conferences

Campaign promises

Mobility and transport are priorities for competitiveness, attractiveness and the equality between different regions. Besides, they are key for accessing the labor market, vocational training and professional integration, depending on need, but also for companies to find employees. Moreover, mobility absorbs an important part of the French “time budget”. This is why Emmanuel Macron has put daily mobility at the center of his promises concerning transport and mobility.

While candidate Macron had made the diagnosis of a well-performing French transport network, he also found that its old age was bound to be a threat. Therefore, the candidate’s priority was to improve existing structures, before launching new infrastructure projects. He proposed an emergency plan for investment in renovation (rail and roads, especially national ones – the gap in the maintenance level between national roads and highways is widening).

Candidate Macron also considered that it was urgent for France to seize the opportunity offered by new technologies in order to face the challenges of tomorrow’s mobility. Indeed, the transport sector is one the most impacted by digital transformations, right after the media. It is no coincidence if the word “Uberization” (the Uber economy) in French comes from the digital company Uber, a pure player, which has disrupted the taxi market all over the world.

The candidate never made any direct claim on transport in his speeches. The campaign promises were therefore less detailed – and probably less engaging – than in other areas, especially regarding operators.

Nevertheless, the candidate’s proposals regarding transport policy were the following:

  • Opting for a service-driven rather than an infrastructure-driven approach
  • Developing multi-modality transport offers
  • Promoting “clean” vehicles, especially through an adapted tax and investment in electric charging stations
  • Modernizing and making better use of existing infrastructure before considering new projects
  • Creating legislation on the orientation of infrastructure to prioritize the needs and ensure the financial sustainability of projects.

Regarding the SNCF national railway system, Emmanuel Macron committed to preparing the market to open up to enhanced competition for activities involving passengers. Moreover, he hinted that he would nationalize the “historical debt” of this public rail company.



The government’s action – led by Elizabeth Borne, Minister in charge of Transport – is characterized by:

  • The choice to launch several projects simultaneously, which are based on campaign promises
  • An ambition to go fast, to adopt complex texts and take decisions involving tight deadlines
  • A systematic use of broad consultations, as a way to take into account demands from all economic and social actors (particularly user groups): Mobility Conferences, specific consultations on logistics, Aerial Conferences, consultations on the ordinances concerning the SNCF reform… Likewise, around 60 territorial workshops have been organised for the preparation of the mobility orientation bill (LOM)
  • The mobilization of experts such as Jean-Cyril Spinetta (Chairman of Air France-KLM), Philippe Duron (former Deputy), Anne-Marie Idrac (former CEO of RATP, the Parisian metro company,) and the 7 people chairing the Mobility Conferences
  • A push to use ordinances on the very sensitive topic that is the SNCF, which was then abandoned in the end of March, at least on the question of the opening up to competition.

These projects aim at constructing a coherent transformation program, in order to improve citizens’ and local authorities’ mobility options, thus providing France with modern legislation concerning new transit options and the use of mobility data. The SNCF reform is justified by the will to ensure more efficient and reliable public railway services, especially for daily transit.

The implementation of a programming act for transport infrastructure

In order to draft a programming act for transport infrastructure, the government launched a Council of Infrastructure’s Orientation (COI), chaired by Philippe Duron. This Council has handed a report to Minister Elisabeth Borne on 1st February 2018.

3 scenarios were presented in this report. Decisions will have to be made before the Summer:

  • The first scenario assesses what is achievable if the State maintains its current budget over the course of 20 years. This scenario deems impossible most of the new major projects and makes the funding of all heavy maintenance operations particularly complex.
  • The second scenario, built to allow for the implementation of the government’s priorities, requires a State budget of €60 billion over the course of the next 20 years, which represents an additional investment of €600 million per year.
  • The third scenario, the “ideal” one, relies on an investment of €80 billion, allowing for the realization of all investment planned for by the technical teams or by local officials.

The President confirmed his guidelines regarding the railway during the launch of the lines Tours-Bordeaux and Le Mans-Rennes in July 2017, but to date, firm decisions have been made only for the Roissy Express (in November 2017), the agenda of Société du Grand Paris, and the abandonment of the project of an airport in Notre-Dame des Landes.

Grand Paris Express

The government has confirmed that it will implement a project planning the construction of 200 kilometers (124 mi) of automatic metro lines and a network of 68 stations in the Ile-de-France region. However, while these constructions are a priority and should be over by 2024, in order to be able to host the Olympic Games, the rest will be postponed until 2030 (the project was initiated in 2008).

Moreover, this project is raising questions regarding its sustainability. Its cost has been re-evaluated several times (it was estimated at €19 billion in 2010 and then over €35 billion in 2017 by the Court of Audit), while the institutional organization of the Grand Paris has still not been determined and hampers the project’s efficiency.

Digital transformation, data on mobility, future French unicorns and innovation

The government is reaffirming its support of the development of French startups and its help to smaller ones developing in the mobility sector, but also in health and security. Detailed measures are expected to be announced in upcoming weeks, especially the publication of data. This ambition is combined with the government’s aim to become a leader in autonomous vehicles.

The SNCF national railway reform

The government, which has shared the main results of the Spinetta report, has initially chosen to legislate with ordinances to:

  • Give a legal basis for the market to open up to competition
  • Put an end to hires granting a special status, new employees are to be recruited with long-term contracts on the model agreed by the sector’s collective convention currently being decided
  • Transform the 3 EPIC SNCF into publicly owned anonymous companies.

Confronted with the reactions that were sparked by the announcement of a reform carried out exclusively by ordinance, Minister Elisabeth Borne finally claimed in March 2018 that she would submit to MPs the amendments organizing SNCF’s introduction to competition.

Nevertheless, as we speak, the government’s position remains unclear regarding the funding of the French railway (transfer of SNCF’s debt to the State, funding of the annual operational dead-end of €2 billion, planned royalty system to access the network….). The same goes for the future organization of SNCF, even if the Prime Minister announced both that the debt would be transferred “by the end of the presidential term” and that the “German model” would inspire the SNCF’s future organization.

Finally, two major topics are excluded from the SNCF’s reform: the closing of smaller lines and the issue of the special status for SNCF employees’ pensions – which will be discussed during the global pension reform planned for 2019.

The mobility orientation bill (LOM)

The bill is currently being drafted, and its main themes should be the following:

  • The development of clean vehicles, for instance by developing electric charging stations
  • New forms of mobility, such as carpools and bikes
  • Mobility for isolated people or people with disabilities, mobility to improve social integration, and access to employment
  • Safety and security issues
  • Special measures for rural, urban and peri-urban areas
  • The publication of mobility data to develop services but also to improve mobility policies
  • Governance.

This bill is expected to implement some important campaign promises, such as the end of “house arrests” due to isolation or the necessity to reduce “territorial divides”. We will have to wait for more details on the expected text to analyze its content.


Macron’s presidency will be the opportunity for strong shifts in transport policy, which are easy to guess, despite the fact that all decisions have not been taken yet, and that the national railway reform is under way just now.

On the content, a new balance is showing between public transport, cars (cleaner, more shared), and new mobility options (in particular bikes), which share strong environmental characteristics. The current mindset seems to focus on questioning annuities and ideas from the past, in order to tackle concrete questions with pragmatism. It translates, for instance, into statements aiming to think in terms of current transport services offered to inhabitants, rather than in terms of large infrastructure projects. The same approach had indeed inspired the liberalization of transport thanks to coaches, back when Macron was Minister of the Economy, and those are now being referred to as “Macron coaches”.

In addition, the government wishes to tackle funding and investment challenges differently than through budget cuts, i.e. by making real choices and funding heavy maintenance, which has been far too neglected until now. Anyhow, if trial balloons have been launched, it is still hard to determine whether – once the choices are made – the transport system will be provided with long-term funding or continue to depend on the under-maintenance and cumulative debt. Should we understand the announcements made on Parisian airports’ privatization as the reopening of the private funding field, or simply as a patrimonial operation?

On the form, the most striking elements of this first year were both the ambition to make clear-cut decisions on complex and sensitive topics (the airport project in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the status of railway workers, competitiveness), and the systematic consultations of all players involved (professionals, local authorities, elected politicians, citizens, etc.) through events like the Mobility Conferences.

And now?

Many issues have been mentioned, and have been the subject of in-depth reports and large consultations. As of now, strong public policy shifts have been decided, but decisions are still expected in coming months: the follow-up on the Dutron report, the future of the very costly tunnel project between Lyon and Turin, the detailed content of the LOM bill on new types of mobility, final decisions on the railway reform, and of course, a final draft of the 2019 Finance Bill. All are opportunities to implement campaign promises: daily mobility for all French citizens – including the most isolated –, the ambition to encourage innovation and French champions, and, of course, the reduction of public spending.

Moreover, as illustrated by projects like the Grand Paris project, the potential re-establishment of local urban-tolls or regional eco-tax, and the closure of small railway lines, the decisions that are taken on the field require the creation of new ways of “deciding and doing together”, involving the State and various local authorities, in order to be impactful. The development of an ambitious transport policy requires that all actors are aligned, which is particularly important since the implementation of the NOTRe law, which defines the country’s territorial organization. This transformation, which aims at creating a new form of governance for mobility, in which the State’s role is yet to be defined, is far from being the country’s easiest task.