Fare setting by the French National Railway Company (SNCF), a social history of pricing. From uniform fares to yield management (1938-2012)
This article analyses the conditions of production and justification for systems of rail fares in France since the creation of the French National Railway Company (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français—SNCF) in 1938. Initially based on the principle of a uniform rate per kilometre, the historic uniform fare system was steadily abandoned during the post-war decades in favour of pricing indexed to marginal costs. At the turn of the 1980s-90s, this paradigm was itself replaced by a real-time pricing mechanism —yield management— aimed at obtaining as much surplus per consumer as possible. The transformation of SNCF fare models, which was accompanied by a redefinition of the highly polymorphic notion of “public service” railways, was the result of work by a few leading actors. These “price setters,” who rely on tools from the discipline of economics as well as their own influence, act in specific (political, social, technical and competitive) contexts that make their proposed innovations possible, necessary and legitimate.
Keywords. ECONOMIC SOCIOLOGY – PRICING – RAIL TRANSPORT – PUBLIC SERVICE – COMPETITION – ECONOMIC THEORY