Thursday, 10 March 2011

Local politics

OK, here's a story about urban France, and one which still rankles, to boot: local politics. There's an old joke: 'What's the difference between a French politician and Nelson Mandela?' Answer: Nelson Mandela went to prison before taking office. Provincial French politics is a beast in itself and Toulouse is no exception. This is the fastest-growing city in the country and hub of many important industries, not least the aeronautical, where Airbus employs, either directly or otherwise, tens of thousands of workers. It's importance to the region and the country cannot be underestimated, yet a funny thing happened to them, recently.

Toulouse has two metro lines and now, a sparkling new tram. All right, I know it opened two weeks late because of strikes (despite the socialist mayor having been warned of possible industrial action NINE months ahead of the start date, but what the hey) and moves slower than a snail stuck in Super Glue.

Anyhow, this tram passes within two hundred yards of Toulouse International Airport but doesn't stop there. Why, you may ask. The reason is enough to make you want to drink the contents of your U-bend: the Mayor of Blagnac, through whose fiefdom the tram doth pass, refused to build an airport stop in order to protect the jobs of his taxi drivers, who charge, then as now, grossly inflated prices to take you the handful of miles into the centre of the city. Never mind encouraging the use of public transport, going green, giving the planet a hand job 'n' all that; when it comes to small-minded provincialism, the soon-to-be third-largest and most dynamic city in the world's sixth richest country cannot take you from the central railway station to the airport without going private.

Airbus also asked for a stop, arguing that it would take a machete to the number of employees driving to work, a pretty sensible argument, especially for people familiar with rush-hour traffic around the city. They were told they could have one if they paid for it. Airbus replied that they were not responsible for civil engineering and that their request was made with a view to relieving traffic congestion and pollution. They didn't get their stop.

Just to wind up this tram story, the line goes from Arènes (west of the city centre but well-connected to metros, buses and trains) to Beauzelle, north-west of Toulouse. The stretch takes 38 minutes. A friend of mine regularly does the same route by car during rush hour. It takes her 15 minutes. It almost makes the Mayor of Blagnac's decision seem logical.

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