Travel alerts: What do ‘risk’ warnings about France really mean?

You've probably seen a 'risk' warning about travel to France during one of the country's not infrequent periods of strikes or protests - but what do these warnings actually mean? The Local asked a professional risk and crisis management adviser how seriously we should take travel alerts.

Travel alerts: What do 'risk' warnings about France really mean?
A protestor throws a beer can towards security forces during a demonstration in Paris. Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

France has been in the grip of periodic strikes since January as unions battle pension reform, and in recent days violence has flared close to the routes of demos in Paris, Bordeaux and Rennes.

Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates

Despite this, life has continued as normal in France, so many people were bemused and amused to see travel warnings suggesting that people avoid the country.

Many pointed to this clip of French people calmly continuing to enjoy their apéro while a fire burns in the street as a more appropriate response to what are, after all, a few scattered incidents in a handful of French cities.

But how are these warnings created, who issues them and what do they mean to the average traveller?

The Local spoke to Alexandra Delgado, a global risk and crisis management adviser, who runs the Terrain-Neuf agency which provides customised solutions for travel risk management.

She said: “I totally understand why a Paris native might burst out laughing at the idea that you should avoid the city, but a lot depends on the traveller’s personal experiences – someone who lives in Geneva, for example, might never have even seen a burning tyre – as well as their reasons for travel and whether they are travelling for work.

“A risk management assessment will include all types of risk, from looking at whether public transport is safe and reliable, how easy it is to access medical care and specific risks from events with large crowds and demos, which we know can be risky as they can quickly turn.

“As an industry, risk management became a really hot topic during Covid, when for example you had situations like a company having to deal with the fact that its CEO was stuck on a cruise liner and they weren’t getting off for six week.”

Most travel warnings are issued by companies and are aimed at business travellers – whose employers have a legal liability if something goes wrong.

Alex said: “Big companies or international organisations like the UN have in-house teams who will asses the risk of all sorts of travel – from employees coming for a meeting at the OECD in Paris, to trips to Afghanistan.

“They will use data including traditional media, social media like TikTok or Snapchat, any existing data or press releases and calling a local operative on the ground, if they have one, to asses the risks of the trip and issue advice or a warning – typically you would shadow a team in the industry for several years in order to learn how to make judgements on different types of data.

“Smaller companies will usually outsource to an independent contractor to either produce risk assessments or sometimes – if they don’t want to pay for individual assessments – they will just sign up for a feed that sends alerts on anything related to that country.

“For the employers there is – one would hope – a moral responsibility for their staff but certainly a legal and financial one. For example, if an employee on a business trip wanders down the wrong street where windows are being smashed and gets a shard of glass in their eye, someone will end up paying for that – and it almost certainly won’t be the person who smashed the window.”

Most travel warnings are sent by large companies to employees – and for obvious financial reasons they tend to err on the side of caution. But the other groups that regularly send warnings are governments, via Embassies, to their citizens.

Governments tend to have their own in-house experts and issue various types of warnings to their citizens – from advice to expats to evacuate in extreme cases like the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, to travel advisories to tourists on issues like social unrest or strikes.

And it’s not uncommon for Embassies of different countries to offer different assessments of the same country.

Alex said: “Embassies tend to be writing to their audience – addressing the typical type of traveller. So for example the US Embassy might be thinking of John and Shirley from the Midwest, making their first trip to Europe who would be upset if they saw a burning pile of trash in Paris.

“Other Embassies might expect their citizens to be a little more worldly and knowledgeable if they were travelling from a closer country like the UK.”

So, how risky is a trip to a French city when there are protests on?

Alex, who lives in eastern France, close to the Swiss border, says: “I’m planning a trip to Paris soon and I’m not at all worried – I used to live in Paris and it’s a city I know well.

“The main piece of advice I would give to people is to look up demo routes in advance. These are published a few days in advance – many English-language media publish them – and just take five minutes out of your day to look up the planned route of a march so that you can stay clear of that area of the city, because demos are unpredictable and can be dangerous.

“The other thing I would do is check in advance any train or airport connections that might be disrupted because of a strike.”

The Local publishes advance information on planned strikes and demos – you can find the latest in our strike section HERE

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How French cities are getting people out of their cars

In an effort to get motorists out of their cars for environmental reasons, France and its cities are trying a number of different stick-and-carrot policies, from parking charges based on weight to free public transport. We look at the various schemes around the country

How French cities are getting people out of their cars

Pay by weight

A number of cities in France are watching the roll-out of new car parking rules in the south-eastern city of Lyon in 2024.

Currently, residents in the city pay a flat rate of €20 per month for an on-street parking permit. But the council has decided that, from next year, residential rates will range from €15 to €45, based on the weight of their vehicle.

Under the new rules, owners of an internal combustion car that weighs less than one tonne, or an electric car weighing less than 2.2 tonnes, will pay €15; for an internal combustion car weighing more than 1.725 tonnes, a plug-in hybrid weighing more than 1.9 tonnes or an electric car weighing more than 2.2 tonnes the price will be €45. 

For vehicles in the middle range for weight, the monthly price for permits will be €30.

READ ALSO French city to bring in parking charges based on car weight

Carshare lanes

An online consultation on reserving one lane of Paris’s notoriously congested Périphérique for car-sharing, taxis and buses was due to end on May 28th.

The results of that consultation should shape plans for the 35km ring-road beyond next year’s Olympic Games, when one lane will be reserved for athletes, officials and emergency responders.

Prolonging the scheme beyond 2024 as part of the games’ legacy would aim to “develop more virtuous and economical use of cars,” Belliard said.

Radars are already being tested that could detect whether a vehicle has multiple passengers and is therefore legally in the car sharing lane, he added — while insisting that the project remains “open to discussion”.

READ ALSO Paris weighs car-sharing lane for crucial ring road

Low-emission zones

France’s environment minister announced last year a major extension of ‘low-emission zones’ that will see certain types of vehicle effectively banned from numerous town and city centres by 2025. 

Those vehicles carrying a 4 and 5 Crit’Air sticker are then banned from these low-emission areas (usually the city centre) or limited to certain times. The exact details of the restrictions are up to local authorities, who have the power to extend the limits – for example Paris intends to also ban Crit’Air 3 vehicles by July 2023. Bordeaux plans to follow suit in 2025.

These zones already exist in 11 French cities – Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Aix-Marseille, Nice, Toulon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Strasbourg, Rouen and Reims – but by the end of 2025 they will be compulsory for any town that has more than 150,000 inhabitants. In total this will be around 40 towns and cities. In addition, local authorities in smaller towns can create ZFEs, if they want.

READ ALSO Car bans and €750 fines – how France’s new low-emission zones will work

Car-free zones

From next year, Paris plans to ban cars in an area taking in the first to the fourth arrondissements – the area that makes up much of the historic city centre that runs along the Seine and attracts the most tourists.

The plans were first announced in May 2021 and were set to come into effect in 2022, but have been pushed back to allow more time to implement the changes. 

An exact date for the introduction in 2024 has not been set, but Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Grégoire said it will start at the beginning of 2024, ahead of the Paris Olympics, which will be held in July and August.

The plans as envisaged by City Hall don’t constitute a complete ban on all vehicles in the city centre, and there are many exceptions – including for people who live in the central zones to use cars, as well as allowances for delivery drivers, the disabled, taxis, VTC vehicles such as Uber, buses and car-sharing.

Bordeaux, meanwhile, extended the pedestrianised area of its city centre last November, to include part of the Chartrons district, increasing the size of the existing pedestrian area by 45 percent. The current car-free zone is some 58 hectares, and the plan is to increase it to 100 hectares in the next few years.

READ ALSO MAP: Where and when will Paris ban cars from the city centre?

Low-speed travel

An increasing number of French cities are cutting speed limits to 30km/h in a bid to encourage motorists out of their cars, save lives and – according to advocates – reduce pollution.

Cities recognise that cutting speed limits does not work in isolation. They go hand-in-hand with other so-called ‘soft transport’ measures to reduce reliance on cars in heavily urban areas.

In Montpellier a €150million 10-year mobility plan aims to cut car use and encourage other means of transport. 

As well as the reduction in speed limit, the plan includes new cycle lanes, new bus lanes, and improvements to the city’s tram services – including a new line set to open by 2025.

In 2019, Lille took a step-by-step approach to its speed limit reduction, adding new areas over a period of months, while also improving infrastructure for cyclists and public transport.

READ ALSO Why more cities across France are imposing 30 km/h speed limits

Cycle lanes

During the pandemic, more people were prompted to take up cycling as a means to escape the virus-spreading confines of public transport. In Paris, the rapidly expanding cycling path network was dubbed “corona-pistes”, as commuters shunned public transport for fear of infection.

Images of Paris as an example of how a city can switch transport focus to cycling are regularly trotted out on social media. But it’s not the only city to do this, as government-backed pro-cycling schemes are proliferating across the country.

READ ALSO How France will splash another €250 million on national ‘bike plan’

Free buses

More than 35 towns and cities across France – including Calais, Dunkirk Libourne, Niort, Aubagne, Gap, and Castres – offer permanent free bus travel on in-town routes. 

The idea is to ease congestion on the roads by increasing the number of journeys made by bus, and to reduce the environmental impact caused by cars.

Others – including Rouen, Nantes and Montpellier – run or have trialled free public transport on certain days, notably weekends.

And some have age-restricted free travel, allowing under-18s to travel without having to pay.

Public policy

It’s not just at a local level that France is trying to break the monopoly of car travel. Those commuting in and out of Paris, as well as tourists looking to enjoy a day at Disneyland, are familiar with the region’s extensive suburban train network (RER). According to French President Emmanuel Macron, it might soon be replicated in other French cities in the coming years.

In the latest in a series of short-videos answering constituents’ “ecological” questions, the President responded to the question “What are you doing to develop rail transport in France, and offer a real alternative to [travelling by] car?” by offering plans to duplicate Paris’ RER system in “the 10 main cities” in France.

Macron said that building suburban train networks in other cities would be “a great goal for ecology, the economy, and quality of life.”

He did not give a timeline, but the Elysée later told Le Figaro that the first step would be for “the orientation council for transport infrastructure” to identify which projects could be “launched first.”

READ ALSO Macron wants new suburban train network in France’s main cities


Since 2022, car adverts have been obliged to carry messages that encourage more eco-friendly forms of transport such as cycling and public transport.

All car adverts now contain one of the following messages:

  • Pour les trajets courts, privilégiez la marche ou le vélo – For short journeys, prioritise walking or cycling
  • Pensez à covoiturer – Think about lift sharing 
  • Au quotidien, prenez les transports en commun – On a day-to-day basis, take public transport 

The messages must be clearly visible or audible, and failure to comply will lead to a €50,000 fine.  They must also mention the hashtag  #SeDéplacerMoinsPolluer – which encourages people to choose less polluting forms of transport. 

Car manufacturers and advertisers will also have to mention which emissions class the advertised vehicle falls into.