The French government has just released for consultation its visionary transportation plan for the next 20-30 years, and while I can’t really understand French, if you are able to read French then it will probably make for quite an interesting read. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the plan is the allocation of funding to various transport modes, which is shown in the diagram below: Working in a clockwise direction, 0.5% of the budget is due to be spent on airports, 4.5% on roads (only!!!!!), 32.3% on urban public transport, 9.2% on river-based transport, 1.6% on ports and the remaining 51.9% on rail (mainly intercity I think).
As a quick comparison, this is the cost-breakdown of NZTA’s spending on transport in the Auckland region over the next three years: Whilst I don’t speak French, the excellent blog “The Transport Politic” has translated a few key paragraphs of the French transport plan in this blog post:
Mr. Borloo, a member of President Sarkozy’s conservative administration, has advanced what the plan itself argues is “a drastic change in strategy, a major rupture in resolutely privileging the development of alternatives to road-based transport modes.” The result: Two million tons of carbon dioxide economized each year, part of a nationwide commitment to reducing greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020. In France, transportation consumes 68% of the nation’s gas and produces 28% of all emissions.
The plan, which is worthy of a read for French speakers, has four principal goals: Optimizing the existing transportation system to limit the creation of new infrastructure; improving the performance of the system in serving areas far from major metropolitan areas; improving the energy efficiency of the system; and reducing the environmental impact of the network. These priorities have resulted in what is a clear emphasis on improvements in the country’s already well-developed rail system. Not only will 2,300 kilometers (1,429 miles) of new (true) high-speed rail be under construction or complete by 2020, but two major north-south freight railroad corridors will be developed simultaneously to ramp up the country’s use of trains to transport goods.
In addition, €53 billion will be pointed towards the creation of new works of public transportation operating in fixed guideways, about half of which will go to the massive Grand Paris scheme. The doubling of congested highways such as the Paris-Lille autoroute have been eliminated from consideration, since road infrastructure projects will be kept to the absolute minimum. The program is likely to be approved by the government at the end of this year.
Though the state lacks a long-term funding source for the commitment, the plan suggests that whatever money that is available will go almost entirely to non-automotive modes of transport. Even if the government loses power in 2012, the plan’s goals won’t die off, since the opposition Socialists, in pseudo coalition with the Greens, are just as interested in advancing a similar transportation paradigm.
One particularly interesting paragraph from a translation of part of the plan is this:
The draft SNIT does not increase the overall capacity of roads or highways. Regarding roads, the projects will meet only the requirements of security, to improve access to legitimate concerns and regional fairness, and will erase some points of serious traffic congestion.
Yes, France has a much bigger population than New Zealand does, and yes it’s a more densely populated country. But the completely massive difference between the approaches to transport policy is striking: the French shifting almost completely away from spending money on new roads, while our transport plans focus almost exclusively on building roads of national importance.
In a future where oil will inevitably be a lot more expensive, I can’t help but think that France is taking the far more sensible path.