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When the underground goes around the world

Urban transports: the success of French operators


Throughout the world, three French companies, Keolis, Transdev and RATP Dev invest in the urban transports sector. Their know-how directly comes from the characteristics of French history in this sector. 


Urban transports: three companies, one know-howtramway_400 

Imagine taking the bus in Abidjan or Casablanca, the streetcar in Melbourne, the double decker bus in London or the underground in Shanghai: this eclectic range of transports seems to have been created by a tireless globe-trotter. But these transports have more in common than we think: they mark the recognition of French know-how. Engaged in their development in various degrees, we find companies named Keolis, Transdev and RATP Dev: today, they're part of the main global operators of this sector.

The first one is owned by 70% by the SNCF, the public company that commercially exploits the French railway network. Transdev is owned in majority by the Caisse des dépôts et consignations, a public financial institution which head executive is designated by the French President. Last but not least, RATP Dev, as its name says, is a branch of RATP, the traditional operator of the Paris transports.


Clearing new grounds

However, Veolia was the first to open the way. Among other activities, the group traditionally offered management services for urban networks. In late 2000, its Transport branch won several major contracts abroad, before its complete sale to Transdev in 2013.

The engine was thus started. So far placed in a situation of monopoly in their sectors, SNCF and RATP are now looking for new growth catalysts abroad. RATP Dev has thus gradually settled in the Maghreb area: after the first investments in Morocco, it developed its know-how throughout the area. The company designed the underground in Alger and the streetcar in Constantine and Casablanca, sometimes in partnership with local public companies. Now, directors of this branch are considering the Middle-East. Also in their aim: China, where Keolis and Transdev are already present.


A know-how born in the French history of public transports

Interviewed in the French newspaper La Croix, François-Xavier Perin sees in this know-how the result of several decades of policies oriented on public transports in France. The current director of Transdev stresses the "transport contribution", i.e. the participation of private or public employers to the financing of public transports. It was implemented in 1970 and allowed operators to make significant investments. The long experience they have of local authorities is another asset: to comply with the public service delegation, "French groups have learnt to sign tailor-made contracts" with them.