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French government to improve public transport links in rural France

media A free bus in northern city of Dunkerque. FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP

The French government has unveiled a bill set to make it easier to circulate in rural parts of the country where inadequate public transport has made people reliant on cars. The announcement comes as the government tries to quell anger of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) motorists who’ve been protesting over rising fuel taxes.

French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne announced plans on Monday which would both increase public transport, make it cleaner, and “reduce dependency on the car”.

They include extending a transport authority (AOM) to the whole of France, beyond cities as is currently the case. This would allow all local authorities to set up a tax on businesses to finance the area's transport network.

The bill also promises to reduce the price of getting a driving licence, currently anywhere between between €600 and €2,000. If approved, the cost would drop drastically.

But there are also measures like the “sustainable transport package” which would reduce reliance on the car altogether. In short, employers would pay their staff a bonus of up to €400 for using more sustainable methods of transport such as carpooling or cycling.

The bill also provides the legal framework to create public shuttles or navettes from 2020 onwards. Already experimented in Paris and Lyon, these small electric vehicles could be operational in rural areas in under two years transporting people for example to train stations.

Other measures include allowing local authorities to create lanes reserved for less-polluting vehicles and better access to information on transport solutions.

As for the existing railway network, nearly €5 billion will be spent each year on developing the country's railways, especially in rural areas.

The bill comes as the government is under attack from the gilets jaunes protestors, angry about rises in the price of fuel tax as well as their decreasing spending power.

While the transport minister says the bill's timing is coincidental, protestors have been particularly vocal in smaller towns and rural areas where public transport is patchy.

A measure in the bill which would have made it easier to set up tolls in urban areas has been dropped from the final version so as “not to accentuate divides between [urban and rural] territories” said the transport minister.

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