French local Public Transport Authorities consider urban public transport as a Public Service with four missions: accessibility to the city (low income households), reducing traffic congestion (urban economy), improving central area attractiveness (limiting urban sprawl), and limiting environmental damages. But the design of networks is often resulting from incremental changes, leading to a poor global performance. Trends show a risk of major crisis. Operating costs are increasing fast, as fare box revenue is lazing, leading to an increase of the operating deficit. Reducing CO2 emissions implies to reconsider the design and the level of service to better attract car users. The performance of the service then is a key point to increase both patronage and revenue.
Based on national data on Public Transport Networks (1995-2005), the paper presents financial simulation for different strategies and discusses how to stabilise public contribution. Two main paths emerge, but have to be applied together: improving the productivity through an in-depth study of operating conditions for each route, and redesigning the fare structure in a more personalised way to cope with the higher car drivers’ willingness to pay. Conditions for such a large restructuration mean discussing contractual relations between Transport Authorities and operating companies (margin for manoeuvre to optimize performance).