While the TGV might be the fastest and most comfortable way of travelling around France it is far from being the cheapest. A typical return journey from Strasbourg to Paris will set you back around 130€ for an off peak ticket, typically booked in advance. With these sorts of prices it’s not surprising that the government has had to bow to pressure to provide more affordable long distance travel options for the nation.
As minister of finance, President Emmanuel Macron deregulated the buses to finally introduce the nation to the joy of long distance coach journeys. Previously, the only way to travel by coach across the country was by charter or on an international stopping service. The reason for this was that previous governments did not want anyone directly competing with the railways. The Ouibus and Flixbus networks are the net result of this new legislation. Although, Ouibus is still operated by SNCF, the French railway company. French protectionism lives on!
Happily, cash strapped travellers need not despair, there is an alternative to sitting in a musty box, with overflowing communal toilet, stuck in traffic on the motorway for hours on end: Ouigo is a new no-frills TGV service run by SNCF that offers the comfort of high speed travel at a fraction of the normal cost. More than a simple marketing ploy – Ouigo runs its very own, bright blue, trains with its own staff.
So what’s the catch? Well, although their TGV trains might look similar on the outside to regular SNCF high-speed services – on the inside a number of changes have been made. Seating has been rearranged so that airline type arrangements are the norm – with only one or two table/booth areas per carriage; so as to get more bums in, baggage areas have been reduced and all the bins removed. There is also no bar/cafe on board – so you need to bring your own refreshments. Lastly, you have a luggage allowance of one small bag per person – with extras and over sized bags charged for.
Services also only run at certain times between certain destinations – so your travel plans have to fit around their timetables rather than vice versa. However, even allowing for these inconveniences – Ouigo is excellent value for money and I strongly advise you to check out the website at your earliest convenience.