One month following its launch on 2 April, SNCF’s “budget TGV” operation is off to an auspicious start. Ouigo has sparked a wave of curiosity, with over six million visitors to its website (Ouigo.com) and 300 000 tickets already sold – despite the four double-deck Ouigo trainsets so far only serving two routes: Marne-la-Vallée – Marseille and Marne-La-Vallée – Montpellier.
SNCF Chairman Guillaume Pépy agreed to answer a few questions:
Cheaper TGV tickets are understandably attractive for travellers, but are they really in SNCF’s interest?
Consumers want to regain control of their spending. The internet helps them do so: it is now standard to compare prices online in search of the optimum solution at the best price, and consumers see the products on offer as benchmarks.
In response to customers’ desire for choice, it is in our interest to offer a wider range of services.
Is this one way of preparing for the arrival of on-rail competition?
SNCF has a long history of innovating for the benefit of the greatest number, and has not waited for competition to arrive before introducing new transport solutions. Each time we have done so, we have successfully pioneered and created new markets.
If this venture is a success, as I think it will be, who is to say it will not interest other countries, to which we can then export it?
We also spoke to Barbara Dalibard, Chief Executive of SNCF Voyages:
How does Ouigo tie in with the rest of the SNCF product range?
Ouigo TGV services are part of the SNCF Voyages product range. Ouigo fills out our range of high speed products, offering customers extra choice and services tailored to their needs and budget.
The success of the Prem’s, 100% Prem’s and iDTGV products confirmed our view that we needed to take the budget approach even further and offer a new product that simultaneously broke with and complemented the TGV and iDTGV models. For example, whereas TGV offers general-purpose travel, with various pricing and service levels tailored to specific markets, multichannel sales, and A-Z customer contact, iDTGV is intended more as a “good deal” for journeys in excess of three hours, with the train’s division into two onboard areas (Zen and Zap) providing an enjoyable choice of ambiences.
iDBUS, on the other hand, is coach transport with good levels of comfort and service, but affordable even if booked last-minute.
Who is Ouigo aimed at?
Our ambition is to make train travel the mode of choice and tempt people out of their cars onto public transport.
That is why we have launched Ouigo, affordable tickets aimed mainly at travellers for whom price is the decisive factor when making travel arrangements. This kind of traveller mostly uses their car for short leisure trips and if the price isn’t right, they may well choose not to travel at all.
It is also aimed at those who travel to and from the Ile-de-France area, usually by car, and who do not wish to transit via Paris, and more generally at those living in the suburbs around major cities such as Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy and Lyon Saint-Exupéry, which are growing population centres. Ouigo is the ultra-accessible travel solution designed for young people, families with children, travellers in groups of 4 upwards, and travellers with reduced mobility.
Distribution and management are 100% digital
Ouigo has been designed to be 100% digital, in sync with modern travellers’ consumption patterns. Tickets went on sale on www.ouigo.com at 4 pm on 19 February 2013. Booking has been open to travel agents via a dedicated mini-site since 9 am on 20 February. Travel agents will be able to include Ouigo products on their own sites within a few months. Tickets go on sale 3 to 6 months ahead of the journey. Mobile applications have been available since April.
All information pertaining to the journey and claims handling is dispatched and processed by email. Passengers receive a real-time email or text message to alert them to any disruption or delays affecting their train, indicating the duration of the delay, the reason, and SNCF’s suggested solution.
Why are the prices so low?
SNCF drew on all its abilities to put together a pioneering production model combining passenger safety, high speed, and low prices.
This is a real leap forward in terms of rail-industry efficiency: we needed to design a new maintenance roster for the trains, adjust operating processes, fine-tune skill-sets and organisational arrangements, and rework IT systems to design an optimised production model marrying low prices with cost-effectiveness.
The internal fittings (four dedicated Ouigo Duplex-type double-deck trainsets) have been redesigned to accommodate 1 268 passengers, a 20% capacity boost compared to two standard TGV trainsets (no bar carriage, only one class of travel, and redesigned luggage racks to give passengers more room).
Structural costs have been reduced by focusing on out-of-town stations, all well-served by public transport, as have distribution costs due to all products being 100% digital.
The production model has been fine-tuned to be particularly efficient: train frequencies have been increased, maintenance schedules redesigned, production optimised, and new IT systems developed.