Goodbye Cars Air France.
Hello Le Bus Direct-Paris Aéroport!
The four lines include three new stops serving strategic points in the city such as the Eiffel Tower, plus the stations of Gare de Lyon and Montparnasse. Coaches run from 5am to midnight, 365 days/year, with 300 departures daily – leaving Charles de Gaulle every 15 minutes, Orly every 20.
But why the change? Operator Keolis already ran Cars Air France, since 2008 through its subsidiary Aérolis. Over time, however, it realised the success (ridership) of this shuttle was being compromised (!) by the strength of the Air France brand, leading many airport travellers to believe (erroneously) the coaches only served Air France flyers.
Taking the airline giant out of the equation (note: it was happy to withdraw) and rebaptising the offer seeks to change this perception.
Keolis has also taken advantage of the switch to push the service up to ‘premium’ by adding extra features (note: similar to those of Barcelona’s Aerobus airport-city link).
Re-positioning itself as a ‘premium’ offer, the fleet of 50 coaches covers four routes (including three new stops), offers free Wi-Fi, has luggage handlers on hand, and is resolutely multilingual.
A new multimedia platform, lebusdirect.com, is centred around the three functions – journey planner, next departures, and traffic information (still under development).
Costing between 12 euros for a one-way trip, up to 36 for a return, the tickets may not the cheapest way to/from the Paris flightpath, but they are “up to three times cheaper than the taxi,” points out Keolis president Jean-Pierre Farandou.
He is convinced the premium nature of Le Bus Direct amply justifies the extra spend compared to, say, travelling from Gare du Nord station to Charles de Gaulle by RER commuter train – 10 euros one way (note holders of the montly Navigo travelcard can ride this rail route for free).
Keolis aims to grow ridership of Le Bus Direct from the current 2 million to 2.5 million passengers by 2018.
“We’re keen to improve access to/from the Paris airports, to meet the precise needs of foreign travellers,” says Augustin de Romanet, CEO, AdP. “And there’s a place for the coach here, which will also not only add value to the AdP brand but boost tourism for Paris and its region,” he adds.
Given mounting frustration over long security controls and check-in times at the two airports, following the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, the launch of Le Bus Direct is timely. No doubt AdP is hoping this window of opportunity will demonstrate the pleasurable rather than painful side of the flying experience.
Pain versus gain
Talking of pain, getting stuck in a traffic jam when you’ve got a plane to catch ranks high on the stress level. Le Bus Direct must have some sort of plan up its sleeve to limit the risk?
Emmanuel Genlot, director, Aérolis, told Passion4Transport that a bus operating control system keeps drivers informed in real time of any traffic problems ahead, so enabling them to take action, i.e. alternative routes, whenever possible.
“Furthermore, to guarantee maximum efficiency, drivers either know the routes like the back of their hands or receive training [one week] to familiarise them with all the options,” he adds.
Given that Le Bus-Direct is financed 100% by Keolis, the operator is counting heavily on passenger revenue to make the service a success.
Strengthening a weak link?
When it comes to serving the Paris airports, neither of which have a dedicted transport link, right now there appears to be a confluence of offers – on the cards or already operating.
The Grand Paris Express automatic metro will provide connections to both. Then there’s the planned (and controversial) Charles de Gaulle Express (similar model to the Heathrow Express, i.e. high-end clientele).