France managed to make a huge splash by banning some short haul flights earlier this year. It managed to gain the country’s government massive positive publicity. Now in the talks to form a new coalition in Spain, a similar ban there might be possible too.
But when you look into the details of the French ban, the impact is minimal. Only these three route were banned: Paris Orly-Nantes, Paris Orly-Lyon and Paris Orly-Bordeaux.
There are two elements to why the ban is so limited. First, it applies only if a train trip is 2 hours 30 minutes or less (green groups had pushed to set this limit at 4 hours instead). Second, there is a cunning carve out in the law (original text of the law here) – translated into English:
The journey must be between stations serving the same cities as the airports concerned. However, where the larger of these two airports, in terms of average traffic recorded over the last seven years, is directly served by a high-speed rail service, the station taken into account for the application of the provisions of this paragraph is the one serving this airport
So that means that the TGV station at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is the point of reference there, not stations in Paris. And CDG-Nantes and CDG-Bordeaux are longer than 2 hours 30 minutes.
A further carve out – that train service has to be all day long – applies to Paris Charles de Gaulle to Lyon Saint Exupéry services. The train service is fast enough (around 2 hours), but not regular enough for the flight ban to apply (so SNCF, why not put that right? But anyway I digress).
Let’s then apply this to Spain.
The draft coalition deal between PSOE and Sumar is here, and the relevant paragraph is on page 32 (thanks Moof on Mastodon) – my translation:
As other neighbouring countries have done, we will promote the reduction of domestic flights on those routes where there is a rail alternative with a duration of less than [my emphasis] 2.5 hours, except in cases of connection with hub airports linking with international routes.
How the latter part would work is unknown – it would seem to allow a flight Barcelona-Madrid to then connect to, say, a flight to Buenos Aires. But would you need a ticket for the onward flight? Or just the theoretical possibility? The devil is going to be in the detail there.
And then to the train times.
Best train times on Spanish routes are:
Madrid-Valencia – 1 hour 49 minutes
Madrid-Alicante – 2 hours 20 minutes
Madrid-Barcelona (the big one!) – 2 hours 30 minutes
Madrid-Sevilla – 2 hours 33 minutes
Madrid-Málaga – 2 hours 36 minutes
So two significant routes fail by a matter of minutes.
Also if you read the wording carefully, the agreement says less than 2.5 hours so meaning 2 hours 29 minutes, and – at present – the ban would then not even apply to Madrid – Barcelona. If the agreement said 2.5 hours or less then it would apply.
Dare we hope Renfe could shave 1 minute off Madrid-Barcelona, 4 minutes off Madrid-Sevilla and 7 minutes off Madrid-Malaga?
And as if that were not difficult enough, there is a plan to run AVE trains to Barajas Airport in Madrid from next year. Were that to happen, and if the same rule regarding airport stations applied in Spain as it does in the French law, then you would end up with no flight ban for Madrid-Barcelona.
So – overall – the PSOE-Sumar agreement on this looks like an interesting step forward, but how effective any such ban is going to be is going to depend on some thorny details, and a few minutes of trip times. And – one hopes – Spain will not copy the French law too closely!