French President’s Newsworthy High Speed Rail Vacation
The recently elected president of France, François Hollande, made news with his use of high speed rail for his vacation this month:
Frugally-minded Hollande, who promised during spring’s presidential campaign to save money by catching trains, took high-speed rail on Thursday from Paris with his girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler.
They’re headed for the Fort de Bregancon, an official retreat in southeastern France.
They travelled first class. But it’s a stark contrast from the unpopular Sarkozy, who was criticized for vacationing using a Dassault Falcon 7X jet and an Airbus dubbed “Air Sarko One.”
Hollande has carefully cultivated a “Mr. Normal” image. He says traveling by train is an important symbol at a time when “many French want to go on vacation…and can’t.”
The backstory to this is that in France, bullet trains are seen as the populist, affordable method of traveling around the country, a legacy of the decision of Hollande’s Socialist predecessor, François Mitterand, to subsidize TGV prices so that they would be broadly affordable to the public. Hollande has been positioning himself as a populist, in contrast to the glitz and glamour of the Sarkozy era, and his decision to take the train is certainly part of that move. Plus it has a lower carbon impact, which makes a difference too.
California’s governor likes to show his frugality in similar ways. Currently, a flight from Sacramento to LA via Southwest is seen as the main low-cost travel choice for getting around the state. But I have no doubt in my mind that Governor Brown looks forward to the day (should he live that long) that he can take a bullet train from Sacramento to LA, and have that be the populist travel option available to and affordable for the masses.