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

While the operator highlights the significant decline in the average price since June last year, INSEE reports that traveling by train is getting more and more expensive. Over the past three months, the displayed prices, according to his calculations, have increased by 15.3%!

Have train ticket prices increased or decreased in recent months? The question plagues many SNCF customers, who make no secret of their dissatisfaction on social media due to what they see as prices that have skyrocketed, mostly for long distances. Example: This internet user finds a Paris-Nice route for 250 euros one way…

To the point that sometimes the plane is more competitive, which is a shame for a train that wants to be the green transition champion.

An observation that INSEE also makes in their very detailed reports on the evolution of consumer prices (detailed figures can be found in the “data” document linked to the page).

+13.8% in March, +11.7% in February for the year according to INSEE.

According to statistics, prices for “passenger transportation by train” jumped by 15.3% over the past three months. Seasonal effect? Not really. Compared to April 2020 prices, INSEE reports an increase of 14.6%. In March, the annual increase was 13.8%, and in February – 11.7%.

This surge certainly comes after several years of falling prices (-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…

How does INSEE quantify price changes? It multiplies fare requests for all types of tickets by applying weighting factors, as is done in all sectors. Its methodology is completely transparent:

Train ticketing websites have implemented automated data collection on the Internet (web scraping). On a daily basis, the robot collects ticket prices with four purchase periods (2 days, 10 days, 30 days and 60 days before train departure), following two consumer profiles (with or without a discount card) for a sample of 250 trips (one-way), which corresponds to more than 10,000 requests.”

This approach takes into account the effects of “yield management” applied by SNCF, which consists in changing the ticket price in real time depending on the fill rate and type of consumer. This pricing method is also practiced by airlines.

These figures are “false,” says SNCF.

The desire for escape and travel expressed by the French has sharpened demand since the beginning of the year, ticket prices have also risen more in the aviation sector and among bus operators.

However, in SNCF these figures are disputed and qualified as “false”. The operator tells BFM Business that it does not know “the contours of this study” (while the methodology is publicly available), adding that prices, on the contrary, have fallen by 7% since June 2021, the launch date of the new AvantageS tariff offer. an annual card that gives access to prices with a limit depending on the distance. And note that 3.2 million cards have been sold since then.

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

The strengthening of the Ouigo offer has undoubtedly allowed SNCF to increase the filling of its trains while reducing the amount of the average basket.

However, the operator refuses to disclose the average price of its tickets for reasons of competition (commercial secret)… She explains to us that she calculates the evolution (-7%) based on the average basket, i.e. total turnover (volume in €) for the period/number of tickets sold.

Two very different calculation methods

But how to explain such a gap between +15% INSEE and -7% indicated by SNCF?

Admittedly, INSEE can only rely on prices listed on ticketing websites, while SNCF can know the average price its passengers pay. We can understand that there is a difference. This is what we see on the supermarket shelves, when the prices of certain products reach levels that are considered too high, consumers abandon them in order to buy more affordable products.

So will SNCF sell significantly more discounted tickets than INSEE is suggesting? However, the statistical institute guarantees that fares are taken into account two months before departure, a period that allows a priori to obtain better prices for SNCF. But these two months in advance no longer seem to be enough to pay really less.

It is when buying a ticket for three to six months that customers receive the lowest fares, advances from the carrier. However, this purchase period is not included in the INSEE calculations. But who today can plan their trips so far ahead?

Difficult to understand the reality of prices

However, have prices gone up or down over the last year? The question remains difficult to resolve because the methods of calculation are ultimately very different. On the one hand, SNCF is based on the average of the final price paid by the buyer, who adapts his purchase to the offers made to him. In this case, the size of the average basket may decrease, even if the price index shows that it is growing.

On the other hand, INSEE is running simulations to measure the price index that do not “calculate the average price of a train ticket” but “only the tariff evolution of a representative consumer’s spending if the trips achieved remain the same”. the same all year round.

Question to the government

These differences in calculation lead to a lot of confusion anyway, as pointed out by Nicole Duranton, the RDPI senator from Ayr, who questioned the government on the matter last February.

“The different evaluation method between SNCF and Insee doesn’t really make it possible to understand the reality of the applied tariffs. Thus, depending on the period, schedule, route, type of train, method of calculation, SNCF Fares may appear or be more or less expensive.” In short, it’s always so hard to know if ticket prices in France are going up or down…

Olivier Chishportish BFM Business journalist