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The Olympics, a rehearsal for public transportation




It's a given : with the Olympic Games, transportation infrastructures will be subjected to unprecedented pressure, both in the capital and in all host cities. But this is just a taste of the challenges ahead for a central sector in the country's decarbonization strategy... 


The challenges posed by the logistics and flow management of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games are commensurate with this exceptional event. The Paris Tourism Office anticipates a cumulative total of 15.9 million visitors during the 2024 Olympics. In addition to this figure, visitors in host cities outside the Paris region, such as Bordeaux, Nantes, Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Nice, or Marseille, which will host football, sailing, handball, or basketball events. In total, in addition to Paris, 73 communities will host athletes, staff, spectators, journalists…


To manage all these movements within the Paris metropolitan area and in the host cities (as well as the flow of goods related to the event), transport actors and networks will be more solicited than ever. They will have to face unprecedented pressure, with a very punctual over-solicitation of their infrastructures. More than ever before, the slightest hitch could disrupt the entire system and affect the country's image internationally. 


This exceptional pressure, in terms of its magnitude, is nevertheless an ideal opportunity for transport operators. The Olympics are indeed a unique opportunity for them to put in place tools that will allow them to manage more calmly the expected increase in attendance in the coming years.


In fact, the decarbonization of the transport sector, which is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in France (31% in 2019), requires a massive shift towards collective, clean, and sustainable modes of transport, especially for daily journeys.


But for this modal shift to occur, there must be a clear improvement in the quality of service of transport networks, particularly in terms of punctuality, reliability, and comfort... Unfortunately, efforts in this area are not yet sufficient to meet the challenge. Indeed, while passenger and freight rail transport is regaining its pre-Covid crisis dynamics, the Transport Regulatory Authority (ART) points out in its 2022 report a deterioration in punctuality for most activities. These recurrent dysfunctions, well known to Île-de-France users, raise legitimate concerns about the network's ability to function effectively during the 2024 Olympics. 


One of the main levers for improvement is related to the maintenance of equipment and infrastructure. This maintenance still too often responds to "curative" logics (in reaction to a breakdown), rather than "predictive" ones (in anticipation of a failure). Reversing this logic, by seeking to prevent rather than cure and by identifying upstream the weaknesses of the network, would greatly benefit transport operators, as well as passengers.


This is not to say that the transport sector is incapable of reinventing itself, far from it! It is an area that is the subject of numerous innovations and currently benefits from the development of artificial intelligence - to optimize flows or improve safety, for example. Sensors are now widely deployed on rolling stock and infrastructure to collect valuable data and limit failures. But too few of these pieces of information are actually exploited, due to a lack of suitable tools and time or expertise.


Result : in rail transport, too many delays today are attributable to infrastructure failures... Let's hope that operators will seize the opportunity, and that these Olympic and Paralympic Games will serve as a springboard for a good start for the future.


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