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Transport in Île-de-France: operators are pulling out all the stops on passenger information before the Olympics

Suddenly, the subway stops in a tunnel and the lights go out.

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Transport in Île-de-France: operators are pulling out all the stops on passenger information before the Olympics

Suddenly, the subway stops in a tunnel and the lights go out. Travelers sigh, accustomed to these incidents which regularly punctuate their journeys. The minutes pass, no information is transmitted to them. And then, after a while, the lamps come back on, the machine leaves, still without explanation. These situations, well known to users of the Ile-de-France rail networks, are in the crosshairs of transport operators, who want to improve exchanges with their travelers facing operating problems, in the run-up to the Paris Olympic Games.

When a problem occurs on its network, RATP first speaks of an “operating incident”, “the generic term used in passenger information”. But this can actually cover around twenty different situations, from emergency braking to suspicious packages. On the network, “the difficulties encountered are multifactorial”, with “many types of incidents” such as passenger discomfort, technical incidents, malicious acts or abandoned objects, which have multiplied fourfold in recent years. However, whether it is an “operating incident” on line 1, a “switching failure” in Goussainville or a “signaling failure” at Gare du Nord, the repercussions can be particularly disabling for users.

Difficult for the traveler, in these circumstances, to understand the situation and react accordingly. “When we are told “operating accident”, people get annoyed and complain because they have the feeling of being taken for a ride,” notes Arnaud Bertrand, president of the Plus de trains association. A situation experienced on March 18, when the RER C was stopped due to a switch failure at Gare d'Austerlitz. “It was the lack of up-to-date, real-time passenger information that pushed users stuck in the train to get off the tracks to reach the Bibliothèque-François Mitterrand station,” Île-de-France Mobilités recognizes today. (IDFM).

Aware of this lack of transparency, RATP is “in the process of carrying out work to clarify the vocabulary used in the event of a disruption”. In addition, the company has been carrying out actions in this direction “for many years”, including training its drivers to speak up during incidents. A central point for user associations. In the event of a problem in a TGV for example, “the driver is responsible for resolving the incident and the controller for communicating, whereas in an RER or a metro, the driver is alone in having to manage both,” recalls Arnaud Bertrand. And added: “It’s a real job. Not all drivers are necessarily comfortable expressing themselves orally.”

“We must not hesitate to make a hazard concrete (...). The population who is very accustomed to public transport understands very quickly that a break in the catenary or a serious passenger accident is very costly, and that it will undoubtedly be necessary to change paths,” estimates the representative of the association. He still pleads for the establishment of a clearer lexicon: “We could imagine a system of gradation by colors, from green to red, or by numbers. A bit like avalanche risks or the colors of flags for swimming.”

The organizing authority for public transport in the Ile-de-France region, IDFM, points out that passenger information must be “processed at all levels: at the platform, on board, on screens but also on applications or even social networks” and that it is “framed in contracts with operators”. In the event of a disturbance, the latter must broadcast “an audible announcement within 3 minutes in the first impacted vehicle”, “within 5 minutes in the station” and “within 12 minutes in peripheral areas”, details the organization. It recommends using “concise reasons that are meaningful to travelers”, such as “signal failure” instead of “material incident”, “traveler discomfort” rather than “traveler incident” or even “social demonstration » for “external event”.

Also read “InfoTravauxIDF”: the first application exclusively dedicated to railway works in the region

Same work on the side of the SNCF, which says it is improving “these processes for the benefit of travelers”. The operator specifies that the screens of the 426 stations in Île-de-France “have undergone considerable developments” and can now “display the position of the next trains in real time, the remaining waiting time or even the level of attendance on board. An application, “InfoTravauxIDF”, is exclusively dedicated to railway works in the region, in order to inform users about upcoming disruptions. Furthermore, SNCF Voyageurs wishes to “continue improvement actions” via the broadcast of economic messages live, on board and at the station, but also via station access screens in the event of work.

Due to the Olympic Games, IDFM will also generalize trilingual French-English-Spanish travel information, in order to “guide” visitors as best as possible. At the same time, the authority intends to “harmonize all passenger information systems” between buses, metros, trams and RER, to inform all network users of an operating problem. First in the underground network, with the installation of “panam” screens – for “metro billboards” – as well as on the screens integrated into the screen doors of automated lines, and within a few years, on the bus shelters in the region. IDFM has just released 73 million euros for the renewal over 8 years of all bus passenger information terminals.

Progress long awaited by user associations. “All of this helps to show travelers that the incident is not necessarily the fault of the operator and to explain what to do to resolve it,” notes Arnaud Bertrand. For the user, “having the information” allows “being able to choose between several alternatives”: staying and reaching the end of the incident or changing route. “When you give precise information, most users can manage for themselves,” believes the president of Plus de Trains.

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