As public transport workers in Paris gear up for a crippling strike on December 5, their employer – bus and metro operator RATP – has teamed up with dozens of companies to ensure increased access to ride-sharing services, as well as free-floating bicycles, e-scooters and electric mopeds to compensate for the lack of services. The move has angered unions, who say it undermines the purpose of the strike.
For weeks, unions have warned of “Black Thursday” – the day when tens of thousands of Paris public transport workers will walk off their jobs for an indefinite period and supposedly bring traffic in the French capital to a near stand-still. This is the second such protest this year. It comes as President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government plans to introduce a “one-for-all” pension system – effectively abolishing the special retirement schemes that bus and metro workers have negotiated over the decades to make up for their low salaries and unsocial working conditions.
Today, metro drivers can, in theory, retire at 50.8 years due to the particularly unhealthy environment they are subjected to, including pollution and the lack of daylight (though studies show that their average retirement age is 55.5). Most other RATP workers can retire at 55.8 years, though administrative staff are required to work until 60.8 years. Under Macron’s universal reform plan, the retirement age would be increased to 62 years for all workers, regardless of a person’s job or working conditions.
‘Unprecedented social experiment’
In a preemptive move to compensate for the “heavy traffic disruptions” expected on December 5, the RATP on Thursday announced it had partnered with 32 companies to provide locals and tourists with alternative means to get around the city, including free-floating bicycles, e-scooters, electric mopeds and cars, as well as various ride-hailing schemes. On top of providing increased access to their services, the companies will offer users steep reductions. They have agreed to foot the bill for the discounts, while in return the RATP will advertise their services on digital billboards as well as on social media and via email.
And the selected companies are rubbing their hands for what they expect to be a booming day for business.
Arthur-Louis Jacquier, general director of the e-scooter brand Lime in Paris, told French daily l’Express that “this is an unprecedented social experiment”.
“We have an action plan for December 5 during which we will maximise our fleet availability. Our teams have been mobilised and we have arranged for schedules to be changed so that our partners can pick up and charge a maximum of e-scooters overnight. Our mechanics have also been mobilised for the surplus of reparations we’re expecting.”
Benoît Sineau, the head of the free-floating car-rental service Ouicar, said: “The goal is that people will come back to us, including when the RATP and the [French railway operator] SNCF are no longer on strike.”
But the unions behind the strike action are hardly overjoyed about the RATP’s new partnerships.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Frédéric Ruiz, president of the CFE-CGC union, said the move was a “provocation” that sent “a bad signal” to RATP workers. “Sure, it is well-intentioned and the RATP has a responsibility towards its users, but it can easily come across as a lack of support and solidarity with its staff,” he added.
The RATP first experimented with alternative transport partnerships during a strike on September 13, teaming up with around a dozen companies at the time. According to Fluctuo, a French start-up that measures the use of free-floating mobility services, the number of rentals went through the roof, with a 129 percent increase for bicycles (regular and electric), and a 208 percent increase for e-scooters between 9am and 11am – the timeframe during which many Parisians travel to work – compared with the Friday before.
Replacing public transport?
Responding to the criticism from the unions, the RATP told FRANCE 24 that it was “in no way trying to interfere with the strike” through its partnerships, but simply “trying to limit the inconvenience for travellers”.
It also said that even though its partnerships may help alleviate some of the transport difficulties that RATP users will experience due to the strike, “it won’t replace public transport. We provide some 500,000 journeys a day.”
In addition to public transport workers, other public sector workers including rail workers, teachers, civil servants and hospital staff have also announced they will be joining the strike.