+15% according to INSEE, -7% according to SNCF

While the operator signals a sharp drop in the average price since June last year, INSEE says train travel is becoming more expensive. In the past three months, according to his calculations, the prices displayed have increased by 15.3%!

Have train ticket prices gone up or down in recent months? Demand plagues many SNCF customers who do not hide their dissatisfaction on social networks for the prices that they believe are rising sharply, especially over long distances. Example: this internet user who locates a Paris-Nice for 250 euros one way…

To the point that the plane is sometimes more competitive, too bad for the train that wants to be the champion of the ecological transition.

A comment also made by INSEE in its very detailed reports on the evolution of consumer prices (the detailed figures can be consulted in the “data” document accompanying the page).

+13.8% in March, +11.7% in February over a year according to INSEE

According to the statistician, the prices of “passenger transport by train” have increased by 15.3% in the past three months. Seasonal effect? Not really. Compared to April 2020 prices, INSEE records an increase of 14.6%. In March the annual increase was 13.8% and in February 11.7%.

This increase certainly comes after years of price decline (-6.1% between 2019 and 2020 due to the health situation) and -0.4% between 2018 and 2019. But to justify such a sudden increase from there…

How does INSEE quantify price changes? It multiplies fare requests for all types of tickets by applying weightings, as in all industries. The methodology is completely transparent:

Automated internet data collection (web scraping) has been implemented on train ticketing websites. Every day, a robot collects ticket prices with four purchase periods (2 days, 10 days, 30 days and 60 days before the departure of the train), based on two consumer profiles (with or without discount card) for a sample of 250 journeys (one-to-one). way), which corresponds to more than 10,000 requests.”

This approach makes it possible to take into account the effects of the “revenue management” applied by SNCF, which consists in changing the ticket price in real time according to the occupancy rate and the type of consumer. This pricing method is also used by airlines.

These numbers are “false”, says the SNCF

The desire for escape and travel, expressed by the French, has exacerbated demand since the beginning of the year, ticket prices have also increased more in the airline sector and among bus carriers.

At the SNCF, these figures are nevertheless disputed and classified as “false”. The operator tells BFM Business that it does not know “the main features of this study” (while the methodology is public), adding that prices, on the other hand, have fallen by 7% since June 2021, the launch date of the new AvantageS tariff offer, an annual pass which gives access to capped prices based on distance. And to point out that 3.2 million tickets have been sold since then.

The carrier also highlights numerous promotions throughout the year or the success of cheap TGV Ouigo offers, explaining that since its launch eight years ago, 60% of customers have traveled for less than 25 euros, or more than 42 million passengers .

By strengthening Ouigo’s offer, SNCF has undoubtedly been able to fill more trains while reducing the average basket.

However, for competitive reasons, the operator refuses to disclose the average price of its tickets (business secret)… She explains to us that it calculates the evolution (-7%) according to the average basket, ie the total turnover (volume in €) over a period / number of tickets sold.

Two very different calculation methods

But how do you explain such a gap between the +15% of INSEE and the -7% mentioned by the SNCF?

Admittedly, INSEE can only rely on the prices displayed by the ticket sales sites, while the SNCF can know the average price paid by its passengers. We can understand that there is a difference. This is what we see on supermarket shelves when the prices of certain products are deemed too high, consumers turn away from them to buy more affordable products.

So the SNCF would be selling significantly more tickets at discounted prices than INSEE thinks? However, the Statistical Office ensures that the fares are taken into account up to two months before departure, a period that makes it possible to obtain a priori better prices at SNCF. But these two months in advance no longer seem sufficient to really pay less.

By buying their ticket three to six months in advance, customers get the lowest fares, the carrier prescribes. However, this purchase period is not covered by INSEE’s calculations. But who can plan their travels so far ahead these days?

Difficult to understand the reality of prices?

That said, have prices fallen or increased in the past year? The question remains difficult to determine because the calculation methods are ultimately very different. On the one hand, the SNCF is based on an average of the final price paid by the customer who adapts his purchase to the offers made to him. In that case, the average basket amount may fall, even if the price index shows it is rising.

On the other hand, INSEE carries out a simulation to measure a price index that does not allow to “calculate an average price of the train ticket”, but “only the rate evolution of the expenditure of a representative consumer if the journeys achieved remain the same the same whole year”.

A question for the government

In any case, these differences in calculation lead to great confusion, according to Nicole Duranton, RDPI senator from Eure who questioned the government about this last February.

“The different evaluation method between the SNCF and Insee does not really allow to understand the reality of the fares applied. In summary, depending on the period, the timetables, the route, the type of train, the calculation method, the SNCF fares may seem more or less expensive”. In short, it is always so complicated to know whether the prices of train tickets in France are increasing or decreasing…

Olivier Chicheportiche Journalist BFM Business

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