Trams are enjoying a renaissance in France. In the years leading up to and following the Second World War, many French cities closed their systems until just three survived.
Since the 1980s, trams have returned to the streets of a number of French cities. One such city is Bordeaux, in the south west of France, where a new tram system opened in 2003. The system now comprises three lines, with a fourth under construction at the time of writing (July 2013). Further extensions to the existing lines are also in progress.
The tram system was part of a package of measures to reduce the environmental impact of road traffic in Bordeaux. Traffic restraint and pedestrianisation of city streets have also been implemented.
Bordeaux boasts some fine architecture, and the centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of this there was some environmental sensitivity to installing overhead power cables. In the city centre, a different approach was developed. Trams collect electric current from a rail at ground level. The rail is energised only when the tram is passing over it, the rest of the time it is dead.
The London Underground-style logo on the hairdressing salon "Station Coiffure", to the left of this image, caught my eye!
Outside the central area, trams collect power from overhead cables.
Bordeaux's main railway station, St. Jean, is a short distance south of the city centre. This image shows tram line C outside the station, far enough from the centre to have overhead cables.
The image below was taken at the Stalingrad stop, on the east bank of the Garonne, where trams on line A switch from overhead to APS power. The tram has already lowered its pantograph. The blue lion sculpture is one of the city's tourist attractions.
While the tram network forms the backbone of Bordeaux' public transport system, there are also plenty of buses.
A core network of trunk routes operating at a relatively high frequency is branded as "Lianes". In some cases, the name is carried externally on the buses themsleves. It also appears under the route number on the front display.
Many of the "Lianes" services are operated using articulated buses with three doors.
Standard single-deckers also operate on certain "Lianes" services.
"Citéis" is the name given to a number of more local services, operating less frequently than the "Lianes" routes.
The "Citéis" routes include one which operates in a loop through the heart of the old city. Battery-powered minibuses are used on this service, which will stop anywhere (within reason) on demand rather than adhering to fixed bus stops.
Some suburban services, providing orbital links without entering the city centre are branded as "Corol".
Further bus routes operate without any brand name at all. Single-deck buses of differeing lengths are used on these services. The longer vehicles have three doors while the shorter buses have two. Many of the buses are powered using cleaner technology. This includes both gas and hybrid power.
The city bus and tram network is provided by TBC (website in French only). As in most European cities I have visited, a single journey ticket valid on buses and trams allows transfers for up to 60 minutes. The transport network includes several interchange hubs, such as at Quinconces at the north end of the city centre, St. Jean railway station at the south end and at the Stalingrad tram stop across the river as well as further out in the suburbs. Some of the bus routes serving these points don't go into the heart of the city, but the availability of transfers means passengers are able to transfer to tram or onto other buses to compete their journey without having to pay a second fare.
During the peak holiday months of July and August, services on the TBC network operate at reduced frequencies.
Longer-distance services heading out of Bordeaux into the surrounding region operate under the TransGironde banner. High-floor vehicles are used but in many cases these are wheelchair-accessible, with a powered chairlift at the centre doors.
The buses I observed on TransGironde services had luggage boots, useful particularly on routes linking Bordeaux with holiday destinations on the coast.
As well as large baggage, buses can carry bicycles and surfboards (subject to space being available).
The latest vehicles to be introduced to TransGironde services are branded as e-c@r. These vehicles offer power sockets and wi-fi for passengers' use. They apparently carry roof-mounted solar panels.
In 2012, a flat fare system was introduced on TransGironde services - €2.50 single or €4 return (valid for up to 6 days). The fare is available for journeys involving interchanges as well as for direct buses.
As an example, route 703 runs out of Bordeaux to Lesparre, a small town around 65 kilometres to the north west. At Lesparre (image below), three other routes provide onward connections to nearby villages and, during the summer months, coastal holiday destinations. The €2.50 fare covers the entire journey from Bordeaux to final destination, a real bargain for a distance of around 80 kilometres.
Although Bordeaux Airport can be reached by TBC's "Lianes" route 1 from the city centre, there is also a dedicated "JetBus" service linking the airport with St. Jean railway station. The service runs every 45 minutes.
Tourists wishing to see the sights of Bordeaux have a choice of three special services:
Open-top double deck bus
or land train
All three tours leave at regular intervals from outside the main tourist informaiton office near the Place des Quinconces.