The e-commerce offer of France’s only train company is having trouble staying on its rails. Imagine you decide to give a train ticket to someone without having to go and line up at the station. Well the SNCF, an EPIC (in other words, a State-controlled
entity of industrial or commercial nature) will not allow you this pleasure. Ever since 1938, the year in which it was created, it has established itself as a monopoly and has struggled to keep on time even though it relies on over 245,000 employees.
So you go on the SNCF web site, you select a ticket and pay by credit card. And then when the day of the departure arrives, it isn’t you who goes to pick up the ticket but someone else – for example your son, your wife, your employee, your partner, whoever it is you may have bought the ticket for. Just be aware that the terminal in the train station hall may well refuse to print a ticket if it isn’t you who picks up the ticket personally. The person for whom the ticket is purchased may well come back empty-handed or else be obliged to repurchase a new ticket him or herself.
Only the owner of the means of payment is able to pick up the ticket at the station. Which means that the payer must either accompany the ticket user to the station or else entrust the user with the credit card for the duration of the voyage. Could the
public railway company possibly have shares in banks, prompting it to urge us to buy several credit cards? What solution exists for business trips? Does the employee or businessperson have to pay his or her own way?
If only a few explanations were provided to the public… The real drama of this scenario is that employees at the SNCF hotline 3635 will give you no warning about this requirement. Hotliners make no comments if the passenger’s name is not the
same as that of the payer, but will let you go ahead and pay anyway. You’ll get no more information from the company than when train delays go unexplained or when trains stop in the middle of the tracks for half an hour in the course of the journey.
It will be up to the ticket user to run and puff in order to explain they may be late for their meeting. Commerce International had to call the SNCF hotline SNCF (0892 335 335) several times before obtaining an explanation. “E-tickets have existed since 2011. They are printed with the name, first name and date of birth to avoid theft, and do not require any card at the station,” boasts Patrick, an employee. “But they are not available for all trips.” Our own experience sorely showed that the route from Paris to Blois (in France’s Loire region) is amongst these exceptions.
Ticket to trouble
As a result, the SNCF has become a little like a complaints centre. On 7 December2012, journalist Rafele Rivais had already sounded an alert on false e-tickets in ablog published by the newspaper Le Monde. The columnist explains that a user who
made a mistake while registering the passenger names was unable to modify them, and was reduced to repaying for the tickets. Another person who had no time to print out the tickets was presented with a fine in the train by a train conductor. The
principle is clear: they’ll take your money but without taking note of your name.
Another testimony is found on http://forum.lesarnaques.com where a cybernaut going by the pseudonym “Chidori” expresses exasperation: “I ordered tickets on Internet last week and chose to get them sent to my home. I never received anything. So I
called them as my train is leaving on Friday morning. I’m told that my tickets have been sent and that if I don’t receive them, I’ll have to pay for them again.”
This type of testimony is far from unique: in 2010, 2,300 complaints were registeredagainst new timetables. And bitterness against the only company in charge of French trains has festered over the years. In 2012, the company received 5,400
complaints, in other words, an extra 25 % compared with 2011 figures. The source of the vexation of SNCF users is clear. To understand the errors of the French railway company, just click on sncf.com.
In the end, it would almost be easier to take a plane. With your passport you can fly from Paris to New York. With the same document, you’ll end up stranded at the platform in Paris when all you want to do is to visit Blois, barely 200 km away. “It’s up
to us to make you prefer trains”, so the SNCF slogan goes. But let’s see them reallydoing something about it.