The puzzle of public transport to cushion the explosion of their energy bill

At the beginning of the week, the University of Strasbourg took a radical decision to deal with the explosion of its energy bill: the closure of the campus for two more weeks this winter. By turning off switches and heaters, the higher education institution hopes to reduce expenses. But what is possible for buildings is not possible for public transport networks, which cannot stop the activity of metros, trams and other gas buses throughout France overnight.

And yet, there are few who do not hide their concerns about the soaring price of electricity and gas. “In 2022, the amount of our electricity bill is 6 million euros. Our contract ends at the end of the year and we are in the process of renegotiating the rates for next year. According to projections, we will receive an amount of 24 million euros,” explains Jean-Michel Lattes, president of Tisséo Collectivités, the organizing authority for mobility (AOM) in Toulouse.

Increase in rates or reduction in frequencies under study

What give cold sweats when you know that this must pass the cost of energy in the budget of the Toulouse network from 2.5% to almost 10%. The easiest way would be to pass it on to the rates in force. But this solution would be very unpopular in this period of inflation, especially when Toulouse users have just seen their single ticket take 10 cents and that from this year, Tisséo titles and subscriptions will increase by 2% every year until 2026.

“We looked at the ways to save money, in particular that of reducing the rate of the metro trains, whereas today we have at certain times a passage at less than two minute intervals”, advances Jean-Michel Slats, which dismisses the trail of rising prices.

In Bordeaux, reflection is on the table. “The additional costs are substantial, and could reach the order of 20 to 25 million euros for the year 2023”, warns the director of Keolis Bordeaux, the company managing the public transport network. Since tariffs have not increased for three years, an increase could act as a shock absorber.

“For next year we will see, but I am sure that the president of the metropolis will ask that this remain more than reasonable, no more than 2%, if there is an increase”, assures Béatrice de François, the vice-president of the metropolis in charge of transport.

Reduced VAT claimed

Valérie Pécresse, president of Ile-de-France Mobilités, does not exclude this possibility either, even if she does not want to attribute the soaring prices to travelers alone. Of the 950 million euros in additional costs, the Ile-de-France union has already scraped the bottom of drawers and found 200 million. There remains 750 million that will have to be financed, either by a higher contribution from the communities, or on the margins of the SNCF and the RATP.

Valérie Pécresse would not be against a reduction in VAT from 10% to 5.5% either. A measure also demanded by the Group of authorities responsible for transport, the association which brings together all the networks at the national level is waiting to know the feedback from all its members in order to step up to the government. But she has already speculated that the reimbursable aid paid during the Covid-19 will be transformed into a subsidy. And calls for decorrelating the price of biogas from that of natural gas.

Many mobility authorities have in fact committed to the energy transition by purchasing hybrid buses or running on biogas. These explosions in energy bills could push some to curb their projects, and keep their diesel-powered buses for a few more years. In Lyon, Sytral has no intention of backtracking, even if its energy budget will drop from 40 million euros this year to 55 million euros next year. It involves the change of the motorization of its bus network for electric and CNG. But if this increase were to continue, “the financial balance of Sytral Mobilités would naturally be weakened, not to mention the consequences of the Covid”, indicates one of its spokespersons.

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