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France

French rail plain-clothes agents crack down on ticket dodgers

media Logo of SNCF, France's state-owned rail operator. Eric Piermont/AFP

Attention all passengers: France’s state-owned rail operator, SNCF, has been deploying plain-clothes agents on regional trains in the greater Paris area in a crackdown on ticket dodgers, according to local media.

Alain Krakovitch, director of Transilien, the SNCF-operated regional train network of the greater Paris area, confirmed Friday that plain-clothes agents have been deployed on local trains. The news, reported by French daily Le Parisien, confirmed an earlier article published Friday by French radio RTL.

The lines currently concerned, according to French daily Le Figaro, are largely located in eastern and northern Paris: the RER B, RER D, as well as the H and K lines. Le Parisien has reported that the P line is also concerned, and says that the SNCF aims to implement the new ticket-checking method on all regional rail lines by 2018.

Months of trial runs

“It’s a new strategy in the fight against ticket dodging,” French daily 20 Minutes quoted SNCF manager Kais Chibouni as saying in June. “Having plain clothes officers will make ticket dodgers think twice, while reassuring ticket-holding passengers.”

The rail line between Paris and Meaux, a city some 60 kilometres north-west of Paris, was the first to implement the new method. This according to 20 Minutes, which also reported that other regional lines are set to follow suit in the coming months.

Plain-clothes and uniformed agents often work together once on board, as Charles Manivil, an SNCF manager overseeing the operation, explained to 20 Minutes. They “work as a unit,” and can even “communicate using WhatsApp,” a smartphone messaging application.

“The objective is to punish ticket dodging, while also teaching a lesson so as to prevent it in the future,” says Manivil.

Travelling without a valid ticket can result in a fine: 50 euros if paid immediately, 100 euros if paid at a later date.

The cost of ticket dodging

The SNCF-operated regional train system for the greater Paris area, Transilien, estimates that it loses more than 60 million euros a year due to ticket dodgers. This sum jumps up to roughly 360 million euros when taking into account annual losses for all public transport in the region, including bus, tram and subway travel, according to a 2013 analysis by France's Court of Auditors.

“It is too early to draw concrete conclusions” about the program’s effectiveness, says Manivil. But he told 20 Minutes that so far, “it has been working well, there hasn’t been too much of a fuss.”

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