Inter-Municipal Institutions and Agglomeration: Five Urban Examples

Special Report:  Networks and Territoriality
By Caroline Gallez

Over the last few years, a real impulse has been given in France to the development of inter-municipal institutions, as a result of the 1999 local government act. In order to meet the changing needs of urban areas, the act has created a new kind of inter-municipal authority, the communauté d’agglomération, provided with extended powers in local management and planning, including the organization of public transport services. Due to the success of this new form of cooperation, the institutional structure of urban transport has rapidly changed: between 1998 and 2003, 60% of the French inter-municipal authorities acting as transport authorities have changed their legal status, moving from specialized forms of cooperation toward more integrated structures (with the communautés d’agglomération representing 40% of the total in 2003). Based on the study of such processes in five French urban areas (Rennes, Saint-Étienne, Valenciennes, Caen and Saint-Brieuc), we discuss the consequences of these transformations on public transport policy. This article depicts a variety of configurations concerning the role played by public transport in the building of urban areas’ governance. In all the cities studied, whether or not local authorities have decided to keep a separate organization for public transport, transport issues tend to come second to territorial political strategies. This evolution takes various forms: urban transport areas have to adapt to the spatial perimeter of new inter-municipal institutions; public transport authorities reinforce their technical expertise; debates on public transport are more systematically territory-related. This growing territorialized concern for public transport does not result in more integrated policy. In particular, most of the new communautés d’agglomération did not take responsibility for roads and parking management (which are optional competencies). This shows that the sector-based fragmentation of policies related to urban mobility rests upon established practises and representations that the creation of more integrated forms of local government is not (yet) sufficient to challenge.

Go to the article on