June 19, 2021

This is how to travel in Ouigo, the French ‘low-cost’ that will compete with Renfe’s cheap AVE

“Good morning and welcome to Ouigo. Thank you for joining us on this historic day for high speed in Spain. The Oui Bar is closed, but we have bottles of water for all travelers.”

A friendly voice welcomes the train. It’s a quarter past ten in the morning and OUIGO’s first trip leaves Atocha, the brand low-cost of the French company SNCF. It is a special day because the liberalization of the railroad in our country begins in an effective way. Until now, the Madrid-Barcelona corridor tracks were only used by Renfe, our state train company. Liberalizing them means opening them up to other operators.

In addition to the French from Ouigo, Ilsa will enter in 2022, an operator with Italian capital participated by Air Nostrum and Trenitalia. Renfe will not only operate the AVE, but has decided to enter to compete with AVLO, a Pink AVE, without cafeteria and with more seats to be able to sell cheaper tickets: between 7 and 65 euros each way. It starts on June 23 and made its first test trip with travelers in March.

This Friday’s —from Madrid to Barcelona in two and a half hours— is an inaugural trip for the company’s media and executives. On Monday, May 10, normal trips begin. OUIGO produced tickets starting at 9 euros: a search on its website returns results of 9, 25, 45, 65 and up to 79 euros per trip.

“We do not have a maximum price”, clarifies Federico Pareja, commercial director of Ouigo in Spain to elDiario.es. “What we have is a commitment to be the cheapest option on the market. That is, at most, 50% of the price that existed until now. The final price depends on advance notice and other factors, but that is our commitment.” Children up to 14 years only pay 5 euros, babies travel free until three. As with airlines, the pricing system is dynamic. At the moment you can travel cheaply, but depending on what days and what hours.

“We were not being able to get the most out of the infrastructure,” said Isabel Pardo de Vera, president of the railway infrastructure manager (Adif) in an opening ceremony at the Madrid station. “With liberalization we have increased the capacity of the corridors by 65% ​​to ensure that they are almost always full.”

Adif released three packages to distribute its capacity among different operators. Package A, which contains the circulation of 32 trains a day between Madrid and Barcelona, ​​was taken by Renfe. The B, with the 16, Ilsa. And C, with the remaining 5, SNCF. According to data from Adif, it goes from 99 circulations per direction and day to 165. These packages also include circulations in the corridors from Madrid to Valencia and Alicante and from Madrid to Seville and Malaga, although the companies have not yet started operating in them . The commercial director of Ouigo points out that they will open the eastern route before the end of the year and the southern one in 2022.

Ouigo’s initial trip was much more pompous than AVLO’s. SNCF placed pink rugs on the Atocha platform from which their train departed; also in the Barcelona Sants station, where they waited for more means to join the inauguration. He invited Hélène Valenzuela, the director of Ouigo in Spain, and Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF, who gave a speech in front of the press. Representing Spain were, in addition to Pardo de Vera, the president of the CNMC, Cani Fernández, and the secretary of state for infrastructure, Pedro Saura. In Barcelona they were waiting for Janet Sanz, councilor for urban planning and mobility of the City Council, and Damià Calvet, councilor for Territory of the Catalan Government.

“[Con la liberalización] we all win. The users win, who will have more affordable prices, and society wins, “said Saura.” The Spanish have made a very important effort investing in high speed. It would be a waste if this infrastructure was not put to proper use. Now we have to ensure that there is a modal transfer. “After his speeches there was music and some small fireworks (on AVLO’s maiden voyage there were no political positions and the speeches of Renfe managers were on the train itself).

Two floors and 3 euros for Wi-Fi

Ouigo’s trains have two floors and are full of funny messages and illustrations. Like the one that refers to the competition and says that “we are not birds, but we also fly”, or those who define the ground floor as “earth” and the top floor as “sky”.

The train model is the Alstom Euroduplex, with 509 seats. There are three carriages with two double rows (two normal seats on each side) and three carriages with one double row and one single row. In the latter, the seats are large, XL size. They are sold more expensive: when you buy the ticket, you can choose the Ouigo Plus option for 9 euros per trip more, which includes a choice of seat, another hand luggage and cabin luggage, an additional luggage and access to the entertainment service.

The price of the normal ticket does include carry-on and cabin luggage; If you only want to put one more suitcase, you pay 5 euros. All seats have a fold-out table, plugs and armrests. Wi-Fi is not included in the price, it costs 3 euros. Unlike AVLO, there is a cafeteria car here. But, as in AVLO, it is not allowed to bring bicycles. “We let pets and luggage of up to two meters, so you can put your surfboard, skis … But the bike generates a security problem. Due to the configuration of the trains, it is complicated.”

The new high-speed trains will compete with AVE, with the car and with the airlines that cover the same route. Pareja insists that his goal is to attract car customers, not the rest. “We do not see that we are going to steal customers from a competitor. And the competition against the plane was already done by the current operator. Our intention is to steal customers on the road. You can only put people in an efficient and sustainable means of transport if you have competitively priced. ” The company expects that the occupations of these first months, still in a pandemic, will not be as high as they aspire to. “But we are very calm. This weekend is the final stretch and people are buying. Whatever happens, we will keep five daily trips to Barcelona.”


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