The French Genevan Metropolitan Area: capturing growing road traffic in a highly dynamic cross-border metropolitan area

September 2023

Forum Vies Mobiles

The Pôle Métropolitain du Genevois français (PMGF) is an institution bringing together 8 French EPCIs in the departments of Ain and Haute-Savoie. An instrument of inter-territorial cooperation, the PMGF is also historically linked to cross-border cooperation with Switzerland1. Until 2019, its prerogatives were limited to strategic planning, studies and monitoring. Since the LOM, the PMGF has also had operational responsibility for new forms of mobility (car sharing and car pooling). Since then, several levers have been activated to develop car-sharing. Some of the public policies aimed at achieving this objective are co-financed or implemented by other bodies such as the Canton of Geneva or Autoroutes et Tunnel du Mont Blanc (ATMB), the concession company for the region’s motorways.

People interviewed:

A « metropolis of small villages » facing major mobility challenges

In its 2020-2026 roadmap, the Metropolitan Cluster has made « the effort to transform mobility » a priority 2. The mobility challenges facing the PMGF are linked to the increase in the number of kilometres travelled and the number of journeys made (+2.5% in road traffic each year). This is mainly due to the attractiveness of the Geneva metropolitan area, which concentrates jobs and attracts more and more French workers. The number of cross-border workers increased threefold between 1999 and 2013, and 42% of the kilometres travelled each day in the French Genevan area involve cross-border journeys. The PMGF has experienced sustained demographic growth, of +2.1% per year for the last ten years, much higher than the annual rate at national level (+0.3%). This means that 10,000 new residents are settling in the area every year. The phenomenon of metropolisation is becoming more pronounced, and even extends beyond the borders of the French Genevan area: a significant amount of traffic comes from Annecy, heading towards Geneva. As a result, the PMGF is experiencing major road congestion, with flows concentrated on certain routes (400,000 customs crossings daily) 3. The imbalance between jobs and the working population can also be seen in the concentration of housing construction on the French side (67% of new housing has been built in the French Genevan area), the majority of which is single-family housing, unlike in the Canton of Geneva. At the same time, there has been urban sprawl in the French periphery, which has seen the highest rate of population growth in the Greater Geneva area. The combination of urban sprawl and the concentration of flows towards the Geneva metropolis is summed up by the expression « a metropolis made up of small villages », used by Chrystelle Beurrier, the councillor in charge of shared mobility, and PMGF technicians to describe Greater Geneva and the PMGF area.

Travel in the Geneva region, and road traffic in particular, has a significant impact on the environment and air quality. Transport accounts for 38% of Greater Geneva’s carbon footprint 4. The car continues to predominate for journeys to and from the Metropolitan Area (67%), while public transport is used for only 6% of trips. Public transport provision is 20% lower than in comparable areas 5. It will be expanded in 2019 with the opening of the Léman express, a cross-border regional express network. The modal share of public transport has increased, particularly in Annemasse / Thonon-Chablais (+7 points) and the Arve valley (+8 points), whereas it was previously non-existent in these regions 6. However, the development of public transport services is not keeping pace with the particularly strong demographic growth in the region. What’s more, this service is mainly concentrated on cross-border traffic, whereas 50% of home-work journeys are within the French Genevan area. Urban sprawl and scattered settlements in outlying areas make it more difficult to develop efficient public transport systems that can cover all commuter flows.

Car-pooling mainly developed to cope with the pressure of ever-increasing road traffic

In its metropolitan mobility plan (2017), the PMGF set itself the target of doubling the modal share of carpooling, for all purposes, from 4% to 8% by 2030. This increase should be driven by the development of organised carpooling (by platform), representing around 36,000 daily journeys by 20307.

Car-sharing, together with a modal shift towards public transport and active modes, should help to reduce the continuing increase in road traffic due to the region’s demographic growth, and then to reduce car traffic. Car-sharing plays a major role in this objective, according to the projections in the metropolitan mobility plan: the plan (drawn up before the Covid pandemic of 2020 - 2021) forecast that by 2020 car-sharing would contribute 41% to reducing the increase in traffic (+70,000 private cars in 2020), higher than active modes (38%) and public transport (18%). Between 2017 and 2020, the modal share of carpooling should increase to 6%, including 2% organised carpooling, representing 18,000 daily journeys. Thereafter, carpooling will continue to play a significant role.

In addition to reducing car traffic, carpooling is also seen as a means of meeting mobility needs more effectively than public transport, either on routes served by public transport, where load changes or journey times do not meet needs, or on routes with little or no service. The objective of territorial equity is also put forward by the PMGF, by paying more for internal journeys than for journeys in exchange with other territories (see below for details of the financial incentives policy). There are inequalities in remuneration between workers on the French side and cross-border workers. Finally, encouraging car-pooling, like car-sharing, would change the image of the car. For C. Beurrier, it is an object that has been sublimated for a very long time, whereas it should be reduced to « a box that allows you to make journeys, by once again becoming just a mode of transport ».

The company that manages the Mont Blanc Motorways and Tunnel (ATMB) is also investing financial resources in some of the car-sharing policies of the PMGF and the Canton of Geneva. « It may seem contradictory for ATMB to facilitate car-sharing, especially car-sharing car parks before the toll plaza, because this means less revenue. But ATMB’s teams have long been convinced that car sharing is an essential tool for improving the efficiency of the transport system, optimising the use of road infrastructure and limiting the impact of ever-increasing road traffic. Carpooling is also a response to the changes taking place in society, » explains Florian Grange, project manager at ATMB. Carpooling should also help to optimise infrastructure by reducing congestion, even though « there will always be more people on our network » due to population growth, but « there will be no widening of motorways, as this is no longer in the air ». Finally, the co-financing of a financial incentive campaign is described as an additional element to encourage carpooling, in addition to the reserved lane and carpooling areas. ATMB describes itself as « the most innovative French motorway operator and the most committed to the development of everyday carpooling » because it has the highest number of carpool parking spaces in France (in relation to the size of its network) 8.

Four levers for car sharing policies to attract car drivers to car sharing

At the outset, car-sharing policies are targeted at a broad audience: « At the start, we don’t really know who we’re going to target. You have to look for people who have space in their car and who use one of the main routes », explains the local authority. The journeys made are recorded after the incentive campaigns, by analysing the journeys recorded by the RPC. Over a wider area than the PMGF, a car-sharing strategy will determine a more precise and restrictive car-sharing target. This strategy, published in 2020, was produced by the 6-T research agency on behalf of Greater Geneva, under the guidance of the PMGF and as part of the European Interreg programme 9. It concerns the Lake Geneva basin, the area around Lake Geneva on either side of the Franco-Swiss border. This strategy sets out the priorities for developing car sharing, targeting the most relevant geographical sectors in the Lake Geneva basin. It calls for efforts to be concentrated on journeys where informal practices are already observed (home-work journeys of 15 km or more, in sectors of activity and employment conducive to this practice). Finally, it emphasises the effectiveness of measures that encourage car-poolers and penalise car-drivers (parking, bottlenecks), which should be the main levers of encouragement.

The PMGF presents its approach to encouraging car sharing through four levers. The first lever is communication, which was the first exercise of the operational competence obtained by the Cluster. For example, in 2019, the PMGF will take over management of the « covoiturage-léman » search engine (previously managed by the Département) and partly financed by the European Interreg fund. The « covoiturage-léman » website allows users to search for carpooling journeys offered in the Lake Geneva region, via the platforms of several partner carpooling operators, as well as journeys posted online in informal groups via Facebook or Whatsapp. You then need to go to the various platforms and applications to continue making connections and form a carpooling crew. The website also lists the carpooling routes that have been set up.

The second lever is based on the development of infrastructures that encourage carpooling. From 2019, the PMGF has been trialling dynamic carpooling routes: one cross-border between the Communauté de communes du Genevois and the Canton of Geneva, the other internal to the French Genevois area. The routes were operated by Taxito and Mobicoop, then Ecov, which now manages all the routes in the area. Infrastructure developments have also included trials of a lane reserved for carpoolers at the Franco-Swiss customs (Thônex-Vallard customs, on the A411 motorway), a highly congested area. Implemented by ATMB and the Canton of Geneva since October 2018, it is open in the morning from 6am to 9am towards Swiss territory and from 3.30pm to 6.30pm towards France. For this development, the left-hand lane, which was previously reserved for cross-border commuters, is now reserved for carpoolers, while the right-hand lane, which was rarely used and reserved for buses and HGVs, has also been opened up to cars. In this way, the lane reserved for carpoolers has not reduced the number of lanes available to car drivers, since a new lane has been opened up to them in return. Not worsening traffic conditions for all users was one of the objectives set at the start of the experiment 10.

The third lever is based on financial incentives. These are presented as « a kind of bait » by Yvan Moglia, to steer car drivers towards carpooling, « if possible on a long-term basis ». An initial « Je Covoit » operation was carried out with the operator Klaxit, for home-to-work journeys. Subsequently, the PMGF set up an open campaign with several car-sharing operators (Blablacar Daily, Klaxit, Karos, Mobicoop, Mov’ici), for journeys made using these applications. The first campaign, co-financed by the PMGF and ATMB, earmarked €30,000 for incentives. It ran from 13 June to 3 August 2022. The second campaign, financed by the PMGF, began on 2 November 2022: the initial budget of 100,000 euros was used up before the end of April 2023. In May 2023, a new €200,000 campaign was announced, co-financed by the PMGF and ATMB, with the aim of running until December 2023. The partner operators are Blablacar Daily, Klaxit, Karos and Ecov (Hé !Léman lines).

On the basis of the first campaign, the average cost per journey was €4, rising to as much as €6 per passenger (in the case of journeys within the French Genevan area). Incentive levels were lowered by the local authority for the second incentive campaign to make the package last over time:

For the third incentive campaign, starting in May 2023, a monthly earnings ceiling of 120 euros has been set for drivers benefiting from the incentives.

Finally, the fourth lever is described by the Cluster as « making the most of existing meeting points » where informal carpooling practices are already taking place, with the aim of making these practices more secure. ATMB also mentions this desire to make practices safer, by creating new car parks where informal carpooling practices are already observed, via « illegal parking » which can lead to accident risks. ATMB also wants to respond to the demands of its network’s customers.

According to C. In the least densely populated areas, where there are the most benefits to be gained from the ecological transition [with carpooling], acculturation is the most complicated to implement. People are so used to using the car in these areas that they use it for very short journeys. These are areas that are apparently less affected by the impact of pollution ».

What results have been achieved in terms of increasing car-sharing?

The PMGF’s metropolitan mobility plan estimates that in 2015, 4% of daily journeys were made by carpooling 11, or around 36,000 daily journeys. By 2030, an equivalent proportion should be added to existing informal practices thanks to platform carpooling and supportive public policies.

The results obtained by the PMGF’s carpooling policies provide information on the recent dynamics of platform carpooling in the region. For planned carpooling, 7,425 journeys were recorded during the first incentive campaign (between June and August 2022). The PMGF estimates that the incentives led to a 40% increase in usage compared with the previous month. In the area concerned, the platforms recorded a 50% increase in new registrations. The EPCI members of the PMGF, following the trend seen at national level, saw the number of journeys double in early 2023. For carpooling routes, the number of journeys varies according to the routes in the area. Between January 2022 and January 2023, 7,491 journeys were offered by drivers on the routes 12. « The success has been mixed, compared with what we’ve seen in other areas, » observes Y. Moglia.

As with the other local authorities studied, it is difficult to know whether the journeys recorded by the RPC are leading to new uses or revealing existing practices through a windfall effect. In fact, in the Greater Geneva 2021 mobility panel, the modal shares of carpooling are equivalent between France and Switzerland: looking only at journeys made by car to work or a place of education, 9% of panel respondents say they carpool at least occasionally, a level that falls by around 3% between 2019 and 2021 (corresponding to the two waves of the mobility panel survey). On the other hand, the rate of registration on platforms is much higher on the French side (15% of French residents compared with 3% of Swiss residents). The use of intermediated car-sharing platforms is therefore much more pronounced on the French side. However, the mobility panel dates from 2021 and therefore predates the 2022 incentive policies. The local authority also intends to assess the variation in informal carpooling in its next EMC2 in 2023.

The trial of the reserved lane at the Franco-Swiss border, which has been running for 3 years, is also producing initial results for its evaluation. Conducted by Cerema, the evaluation concludes that the dedicated lane has had a positive effect on congestion: the number of traffic jams (duration and length) has fallen since the lane was introduced, with a clear improvement in journey times to Switzerland in the morning, the most congested route. 39% of carpoolers surveyed as part of the evaluation said that the carpool lane had encouraged them to carpool. A majority of carpoolers felt they had saved time, while a majority of non-carpoolers felt they had lost time since the lane opened. After 3 years of operation, 20% of non-carpoolers were prepared to carpool to use the lane, while a majority (62% of those questioned) said they were not interested in the scheme. However, the evaluation reports that the number of car-poolers is the same as when the lane was first opened, and that the number of car-poolers has increased. This can be explained in particular by the fact that the opening of the dedicated lane actually opened up a new traffic lane, increasing traffic flow capacity at customs. The improvement in journey times concerned users of the carpool lane (a gain of 9 minutes), but also users of the other lanes (3 minutes 40). All in all, despite an increase in overall traffic over the past 3 years, traffic has flowed more smoothly since the dedicated lane was opened.

In order to encourage car-poolers more than car-drivers, ATMB would like to improve compliance with the use of the reserved lane, and is considering the introduction of a video control system and the lifting of barriers in the lane.

Shared mobility, the only operational public policies in the FMP to give concrete expression to the ideas on regional balance and mobility at the level of the catchment area

Car-sharing policies are currently one of the only operational policies developed by the Pôle Métropolitain for all of its member EPCIs. The rest of the mobility remit is exercised in different ways by the EPCIs. In order to pool

In order to pool the planning and implementation of transport at Pôle level, the PMGF is working towards becoming a joint AOM for its member EPCIs by 2025. The joint organisation of mobility is still in the planning stage, with procedures ranging from voluntary integration of the EPCI into the AOM, to a partnership agreement between the EPCI and the PMGF, although the project has not yet been fully integrated 13. A number of political and institutional obstacles remain, as do unresolved decisions on governance and funding. For example, although the PMGF « has the same issues as a metropolis without being organised in the same way from a political point of view on the perimeter » according to Chrystelle Beurrier, an elected member of the PMGF, responsibility for shared mobility remains the only operational responsibility transferred to the PMGF, which limits its ability to act on other levers for decarbonising transport.

The cluster does, however, play a role in raising awareness and providing information on these issues to its member EPCIs, so that the issue can be considered at the relevant catchment area level, as C. Beurrier explains. Beurrier: « The Pôle métropolitain opens our eyes to strategic orientations and complementary public policies that have a more distant view of the future. Firstly, because the Pôle does not have to deal with day-to-day management issues in the same way as inter-municipalities and communes. It can therefore develop the engineering needed to plan the future of the region. What’s more, the scope of the EPCIs is too small to work on these new forms of mobility, whereas the scope of the PMGF may be more appropriate. Finally, the heart of the cluster’s DNA is the ecological transition ».

The scale of the Metropolitan Cluster is presented as a relevant scale for these « new forms of mobility ». This underlines the importance of looking at issues such as car-sharing beyond the boundaries of the EPCIs. The attractiveness of a foreign metropolis attracts large flows of traffic from different EPCIs, as well as trade flows between France and Switzerland. One of the reasons for the creation of the PMGF was the desire to structure inter-territorial cooperation in order to « have an impact on dynamics that exceed the capacity for action of the various French territorial authorities ». 14 Gaining influence over the Geneva metropolis and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is one of the benefits expected from the joint AOM project for the French Genevan area 15. In addition to the issue of mobility, the challenge of balanced regional planning is particularly important for the EPCI members of the PMGF. It is a question of dealing with the various impacts associated with the accentuation of metropolisation, in particular the imbalance between jobs and residents caused by the attraction of Geneva for French workers.

  • 1 The PMGF is part of Greater Geneva, a cross-border institution bringing together the canton of Geneva, the district of Nyon and the Pôle métropolitain du Genevois français. With more than a million inhabitants, Greater Geneva is defined as a territory, a catchment area and a legal body organised as a Groupement local de coopération transfrontalière (GLCT).

  • 2 PMGF roadmap (2020-2026), quoted in Grassaud, Marianne. « L’intégration métropolitaine par les enjeux de mobilité : le projet d’AOM du Genevois français », Dissertation, Master Gestion des territoires et développement local - Politiques territoriales de développement durable, Le Mans Université, 2022, p. 62.

  • 3 Dégrémont, M. (2019) « La mobilité dans le Grand Genève : quelles pistes pour un développement territorial équilibré et durable? » France stratégie, working paper.

  • 4 The France stratégie report gives other indicators such as air quality, rated as average to very poor 129 days in 2016 in the Geneva area, compared with 93 days in the Ile-de-France region. Road traffic accounted for 75% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, compared with 54% for France as a whole. (Dégrémont, 2019).

  • 5 Source: Site Pole métropolitain du genevois français.

  • 6 According to the longitudinal results of the 2019 and 2021 survey waves (6t-research office, 2022).

  • 7 i.e. 4% of the 900,000 daily journeys made in the PMGF (base 2015) (Schéma métropolitain des mobilités - September 2017).

  • 8 ATMB also specifies that it « worked hard for the adoption of article 40 bis of the LOM, which was directly inspired by the environmental practices carried out on the Autoroute Blanche (A40) presented during several hearings in the Senate and the National Assembly. This law included in the specifications of the new motorway concessionaires the obligation to « cover the entire network with electric or hydrogen battery recharging points », as well as « setting up quantified obligations for the construction of carpooling car parks and reserved lanes for carpoolers » and, lastly, imposing « genuine social and environmental tariffs » on the concessionaires.

  • 9 6t-research office. (2020). Car-sharing strategy for the Lake Geneva region with a focus on Greater Geneva. Final report.

  • 10 CEREMA study report, 2021: « Voie de covoiturage de Thônex - Vallard. Evaluation à 3 ans ».

  • 11 Defined in the plan as passenger carpooling, excluding children and families.

  • 12 The journeys offered should be distinguished from the journeys actually made: on these routes, the driver receives an incentive even if he is not carrying a passenger, if he offers his seats on the carpooling route.

  • 13 Grassaud, op. cit.

  • 14 Dégrémont, 2019.

  • 15 Grassaud, op. cit.


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