The French Honor System?

Since arriving in France, I have been riding the trains, trams and busses with abandon.  I love good public transportation, and Nice has it in spades.  But shortly after getting here I started to wonder if anyone was ever going to ask to see my ticket, and if not, why did anyone bother to buy one?

For months, I had been duly handing over my euros to ride the various forms of transport, and not once was I asked for proof that I had paid.

Not a big risk taker, I always buy a ticket.  But once, the Englishman and I were rushing to catch a train to a beach a couple of stops east of Nice and as we approached the station we saw that our train was already on the track and just about to depart.  We had barely enough time to make it if we ran, but stopping to buy tickets, would insure missing the train and another one wasn’t coming for hours.

I wavered, but the Englishman took my hand and pulled me along out on to the platform.  I was sweating bullets for the 5-minute journey, but there were no conductors in sight.

There are signs in the trams and busses warning passengers that although it only costs €1 to ride it’s a €45 fine if you are caught without a valid ticket. That – and fear of public humiliation – is enough to keep me putting my coins into the automatic machines on the platform.


But I did wonder if everyone in France is really that honest, or if there was something else going on.

One of the few times I took an inter-Italian train journey recently, on what was a Murphy’s law kind of a trip where absolutely everything that could, did go wrong.  As soon as the train left the station a Tran Italia ticket checker asked for mine and sure enough I had misplaced it.

Without a word of Italian, I feared I was going to be removed from the train or charged a hefty fine.  After lots of quasi sign language, I handed over €5 and we called it a day, but I thought it interesting that after dozens of French train journeys without so much as a glance from an SNCF employee, the Italians were on the case in a second.

After forking over €30 for my month-long bus pass, I was starting to think it was all a bit of a sham, but then on a recent trip to school, as the bus stopped and opened its doors to pick up more passengers, three men dressed in all black simultaneously boarded the bus one at the front, one in the middle and one at the back.  I thought it was a terrorist attack or some expert robbery plan unfolding, but then they began calmly and efficiently checking tickets.

I had heard stories of the ticket readers, boarding busses, sealing the doors and conducting intensive checks, and was always slightly terrified that it could happen any time, and it was a bit scary to be honest.

They didn’t seal the doors, but they were quit imposing with their black boots and air of officiality.

I have still never seen a hint of a ticket checker on the trains or trams though but since then the checks on busses have been pretty regular, and I can’t tell you how glad I am every time I have a valid ticket to hand over.


It’s incredible really how cheap the busses are here.  No matter where you go, weather it’s one stop or all the way to Monaco, it costs just €1. There is even a bus from Nice to the French Alps in the winter months.  And although often overcrowded, some of the bus routes along the coast have absolutely stunning views of the Côte d’Azur.  If you are lucky enough to get a window seat, having someone else drive you around the French Riviera for less than the cost of an espresso is quite a bargain.

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