Friday 20 January 2017

Colmar, France

Alsace in eastern France is well-known as a wine-producing region.  The self-declared "wine capital" of Alsace is the town of Colmar.

Colmar is home to a little under 70,000 people.  Bus services in the town and neighbouring districts are provided by TRACE (website only in French).

A core network of nine bus routes, numbered from 1 to 9, operates in and around Colmar.

On route 1 and part of route 2, buses generally run every 12-15 minutes during the daytime.  The frequencies elsewhere on the network are lower.

None of the routes operates to a regular "clockface" timetable.

Most of the TRACE bus fleet comprises standard single-deckers, with three sets of doors.

Almost the entire fleet is gas-powered.


Routes 3 and 4 both operate as circular routes, running in both directions.  So how do you identify which way the bus will run?

The destination display will show "Boucle A" for buses running clockwise around the circle, or "Boucle B" for anti-clockwise.

This is also shown on timetables.


I also found just one older, step-entrance bus still operating.  This vehicle is powered by diesel rather than gas.

There are bus priority measures in the centre of Colmar, with bus lanes and bus-only access on several streets around the theatre.

The theatre bus stop (below) is one of two interchange hubs, the other is the railway station.

Not all of the TRACE fleet is full-size.  Smaller single-deckers are used mainly on route 6, which weaves its way through the streets of Colmar's old town.

These smaller vehicles have two sets of doors.

The smaller buses can appear on other routes.  I also found one of them on route 5.

The smaller vehicles are diesel-powered, but are fitted with particulate filters to make them more environmentally-friendly.


I observed one articulated bus in use, although I only noticed it at peak times.

Like many articulated buses in European cities, this one has four sets of doors.  The roof-mounted tank is a clue that it is powered by natural gas.

One point of note is that on Saturdays, services operate less frequently.  The Saturday timetable also operates on Mondays to Fridays during school holidays.

On Sundays and public holidays, bus routes 1 to 9 do not operate.

A limited service is provided by a network of three routes, A, B and C.

Unusually, over the weekend that I visited Colmar, limited Sunday services were operating over several of the weekday routes.  This was in connection with Colmar's Christmas market, as most of the shops were open specially.

In this image, a bus on weekday route 1 is creeping into shot as I photographed a bus on Sunday route B.

In addition to these scheduled services, TRACE also operate "dial-a-ride" services for people who are disabled.  A minibus is used.

TRACE also provide some services heading further out of Colmar.

The timetables for these services, numbered 20 to 26, are fairly infrequent.


In some of the places served, these routes connect with demand-responsive services branded as "FlexiTRACE".  The demand-responsive services must be booked in advance.

Many journeys on routes 20 to 26 are not operated by TRACE themselves.

They may be covered as part of the regional bus system provided by other operators, using other route numbers.

Look closely at the destination display on this vehicle on regional service 303, and you will see it is covering TRACE route 21 to Andolsheim:


Here are a few more examples:


So, if you are waiting for a bus on routes 20 to 26, you will need to keep an eye on the regional buses.

TRACE fares and tickets are valid on these services where they cover the TRACE service.

TRACE fares are simple.  A single ticket costs €1.30, with interchange permitted.  It is valid for one hour from the time it is first validated.  At certain quieter times of day a group ticket is also available, for up to around 10 people, for €7.50; single journey tickets can also be bought in packs of 10, offering a saving over buying them individually.

A 24-hour ticket giving unlimited travel on the TRACE network and also on regional bus and rail services in Colmar and the immediately surrounding area, is available for €3.50.  It is valid for 24 hours from when it is first validated.  At weekends, a group ticket is also available for up to 5 people travelling together for €5.20.  The group ticket expires at midnight, however, regardless of the time it was validated.

For regular travellers, weekly, monthly and annual tickets are available. 

The regional bus network is coordinated by the Haut-Rhin regional government (website only in French).  More than one operator is involved in providing the services. 

Most of the buses I saw were higher-specification, coach-style vehicles.  Most carried red and yellow "Haut-Rhin" branding at the front and along the side.

Colmar's railway station is the main hub for these services, although many of them also serve the bus stops at the theatre, closer to the centre of Colmar.

I noted one operator using a coach to cover a journey.

Route details were provided on a notice in the windscreen.

I also noticed a standard bus, without any branding, in operation.

English language information about these services is provided on the Vialsace website.

At the time of writing, single fares range from €2.20 to €4.65 beyond the TRACE tariff area.  Return tickets are also available, offering a saving compared to the cost of two single ticketsSingle and return tickets permit interchange where necessary.

24-hour tickets, allowing unlimited travel for 24 hours from when the ticket is first validated, are available.  These are currently priced at €22 for the Haut-Rhin region or €36.20 for the wider Alsace region, which extends to and beyond Strasbourg.  These tickets can also be used on all local bus and train services within their area of validity, including TRACE within Colmar.

Group tickets are also available at weekends, for groups of up to 5 people.   These are priced at little more than the cost of a single 24-hour ticket.  However, unlike the single 24-hour ticket they expire at midnight, irrespective of when they were first validated.

There is one service which is not part of the Haut-Rhin network.  This is route 1076, provided by LK (Kunegel - website in French).  It links Colmar with Breisach, just across the German border, where it connects with trains to Freiburg.

Long distance coaches link Colmar with a number of towns and cities in parts of France and Germany as well as Zürich in Switzerland.

The coach stop is outside Colmar's railway station.

For tourists visiting Colmar, there are two sightseeing road trains.  Petit Train Colmar operates almost all year round, while Le Train Touristique is seasonal, running from March or April to October.  There are also boat trips exploring Colmar by canal.  These operate from April to October, and are provided by Sweet Narcisse.

However, when I visited Colmar in December 2016, even the Petit Train Colmar was not operating.  This was because additional traffic restrictions were in force while Colmar's Christmas Markets were open.

The markets are just part of the run-up to Christmas in Colmar.  Much of the town centre is decorated with trees and other festive adornments.  These images give a flavour of Colmar in December 2016.


The Christmas markets in Colmar attract plenty of visitors.  This requires some special transport arrangements.

At weekends in 2016, TRACE were operating a park-and-ride shuttle service to and from a car park a short distance out of town.

There was also a free minibus shuttle between the markets and an out-of-town hypermarket.

Villages surrounding Colmar hold Christmas markets of their own.  Coaches were operating "Navette de Noël" shuttle services linking Colmar with some of these villages.

Routes 1 and 2 ran as circulars linking Colmar, Kaysersberg, Riquewihr and Ribeauville.  These services operated only at weekends.


Route 3 operated seven days a week, linking Colmar with Eguisheim.

Fares on the Navettes de Noël were €5 on weekdays, when only route 3 was operating, or €8 at weekends.  Tickets allowed unlimited travel on these services throughout the day of issue.  The 24 hour and group tickets for the regular bus network were also accepted.

At the time of writing, the website for the Navettes de Noël is still viewable, although it is only in French.

Finally, a heritage train was operating for one weekend only, between Colmar and Neuf-Brisach along a line which is normally closed to passengers.

Neuf-Brisach is on the French side of the river Rhine, with Breisach opposite, on the German side.  The railway used to cross the river, forming a through route into Germany, until the bridge carrying it was destroyed during the Second World War.  The railway across the border was never restored.

Had that link not been severed, it might be that instead of bus 1076, rail services might still have connected Colmar with Breisach and Freiburg.