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Coprésences, conflits, complémentarités dans les usages des lieux par les touristes et les habitants

Copresence is a Problematic Resource for Leisure Mobility

One Hub, Multiple Passenger Experiences on a Sunday Evening Return Trip
Nacima Baron and Ali Hassan


This paper analyzes copresence patterns among travellers in a suburban station. The authors investigate how tourists and other travellers experience physically and socially the spaces of public transport. In a first part, a field study is introduced after a multidisciplinary theoretical background (sociology, geography, ethnology of stations). It helps selecting the best moment to develop the methodology, that is, the moment in which the diversity of users and behaviours is maximized. In a second part, two field results are presented: first, Sunday afternoon as being the best moment to observe copresence, and second, the configuration of social interaction as obeying a dualistic structure. A third part questions the opposition between the experience of copresence as being a polite and distant coexistence among some users and a much warmer interaction among others. The explanation for such a divide lays first in the unequal mobility skills tourists and non-tourists may mobilize and, second, this opposition seems connected to the construction of a mobile community identity in the long term.

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  • 1 MUTANDIS 2019-2021, “Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Mobility in Periurban Areas,” Université (...)

1This article focuses on movements and behaviours of tourists and other passengers in a transit hub, considering the interest of a relational approach to analyze leisure travel (Ettema and Schwanen, 2012). It can be considered as the initial exercise of a multiannual research program on suburban mobility1, to prepare for a future in-depth field survey. The question raised is: Do tourists and non-tourists interact in a public transport hub and how? Taking into account the idea that “mobility practices offer different conditions for being exposed to other people and environments” (te Brömmelstroet et al., 2017: 1), the research aims at defining more precisely the capacity of a suburban station to set the stage for copresence scenarios that include variables such as people density or affluence, relational intensity, and social diversity.

2This is a groundbreaking task in that little data is available on the social life of suburban stations outside commuting routines. This investigation is therefore quite original. Although mobility studies and tourism studies have already built bridges and shared analytical frameworks (Sheller and Urry 2006), this study realizes two sidesteps. The first concerns the actual place where the research is conducted. Tourist interactions with other passengers are generally observed in large hubs, almost never in small suburban stations. The scale and spatial complexity of central hubs fascinate researchers, whereas suburban stations are smaller and perhaps perceived as simpler in their spatial and social dimensions (Cydell and Pryterch, 2015). The second sidestep is that the great majority of observations in hubs are conducted at peak times, when commuters pour into stations and create crowded environments where several kinds of copresence and conflicts may be found (Dang Vu and Jeanneau 2008). However, the fact that the majority of these surveys take place on a working day prevents researchers from paying sufficient attention to leisure travellers and tourists and to their specific experience of copresence.

3The conceptual background here draws on a multidisciplinary perspective (sociology, ethnology, and geography) and gives special importance to the spatial dimension of copresence. It mobilizes some key concepts such as traveller engagement in mobility and mobile skills. It helps building a methodology that combines different methods: footfall counting, in situ observation, pedestrian traffic mapping. We begin with a review of the literature on rail accessibility in Paris peripheral destinations and draw on the reasons to zoom on Fontainebleau Station. We then unravel how the characteristics of mobility and behaviour provide conditions for exposure to diverse collectives in this station. Having evidenced segregation patterns among distinct groups, we then discuss the role of mobile atmosphere and mobility skills in the ways tourist identities are experienced and negotiated.

Reasons for choosing Fontainebleau

Toward a Carbon-free Tourist Mobility from Paris to Peripheral Destinations

4What are the specific reasons for questioning the presence and experience of tourists in mass transit lines? It comes from the growing interest for tourism mobility decarbonization among Paris tourist public entities (Schiefelbusch et al., 2007; Hall et al., 2017). Since the 2000s, there is a very deliberate policy to shift even a small part of the 36 million international tourists visiting the Paris region from road to rail (Gravari-Barbas and Delaplace, 2015), in order to cope with three issues: network congestion, climatic change, and economic development in the outskirts of Paris. Regional tourism authorities plan to enhance the sustainability and resilience of the destination that is now called the Grand Paris by encouraging the use of transit modes outside the inner-city network (essentially the metro system). Recent surveys showed that very few tourists use regional lines to venture outside Paris (Fagnoni and Gravari-Barbas, 2013). Beside the overwhelming majority of Parisians and suburbanites, tourists present in regional lines account for 1% to 5% of all users (IMGV, 2016).

5However, the use of trains is possible because the structure of the network and the location of many destinations around Paris correspond to the centrifugal flow. In fact, many tourism and leisure destinations are served by a suburban station in operation (Grillet-Aubert et al., 2015). The link between rail network and leisure destinations is obviously not coincidental (figure 1). Transit network originally brought these destinations into existence. In Paris, as in every large European city, a centre/periphery pattern has historically structured the formation of all peripheral areas. Natural and cultural resources such as forests, river bathing facilities, and heritage sites were turned into leisure attractions during the 19th century, with the help of the romantic artists and thanks to the pragmatic foresight of railway developers (Schivelbusch, 1986). Château de Versailles, Château de Chantilly, or Château de Fontainebleau, together with their surrounding forests, are today within easy reach of Paris by regional/commuter train in less than an hour (Notter and Polton, 2007).

Figure 1 : Leisure Sites Accessible by Train in the Paris Region

Figure 1 : Leisure Sites Accessible by Train in the Paris Region

Source: Original map. Data drawn from the Société nationale des chemins de fer (SNCF).

6Small station refurbishment and network regeneration schemes are planned through 2035 with a 13-billion-euro budget. It goes along with other important decisions, such as the new pricing system which encourages Parisians to travel freely within the region (since 2014, metro smartcards held by residents have been “dezoned,” meaning universal access to all bus, metro, light rail, and regional lines is provided). This public policy should not be seen as a continuation of the time when the French state decided paid holidays for workers (in 1936, during the Front populaire leftist coalition). Today, public transport is expected to deliver massified service performance, frequency, and reliability in handling flows toward peripheral tourist zones (Institut d’aménagement et d’urbanisme d’Île-de-France, 2017). However, if suburban stations are once again seen as the gateways to recreational destinations, the issue of experience of the copresence between tourists and residents in transit systems must necessarily be addressed in a new way.

7With a population of around 50,000, Fontainebleau is 40 minutes (60 kilometres) southeast of Paris. The city has two functions: a “ville dortoir” and an ancient and important tourist centre (Kalaora, 1976). Every day, Fontainebleau Station handles over 50 trains (2 per hour in each direction) travelling to and from Paris, moving approximatively 7000 travellers (SNCF, 2016). At the same time, Fontainebleau Station is close to a prestigious forest (15,000 hectares) that is a major hiking and climbing area (12 million visitors per year; Colas, 2008). The train station also serves the royal castle and gardens of Fontainebleau, where Napoleon lived (500,000 paying visitors a year). Every weekend, between 1000 (in winter) and 8000 (in late spring) daytrippers, whether in search of sport or cultural activities, mingle with local traffic. We chose that site for several reasons: public authorities are targeting Fontainebleau Station as a pilot site to imagine future tourist services, local authorities plan to welcome considerably more tourists coming by train, the French railway company is interested in knowing more about non-commuters’ needs, and that station offers good conditions for observing copresence.

Exploring Tourist Copresence in a Hub: Multidisciplinary Approaches

8This empirical research focuses on the spatial dimension of sociality among passengers passing by the station on leisure days. It draws on a multidisciplinary theoretical framework.

9Erwin Goffman (1963) introduced ideas relating to a dramaturgical analysis that are relevant to this study of tourism, given that in any public space, both tourists and residents are “at play” (Sheller and Urry, 2004). Staging, that is, the way in which the role of the tourist is assumed and physically performed, is one of the key concepts in the sociology of tourism, and through this lens social relations, places, and situations are apprehended “in accordance with more of less self-conscious scripts for social action” (Jensen, 2013: 74). More recently, reflecting the so-called “mobility turn” (Hannam, 2007), the increasing pace of changes in lifestyles have shed new light on the concept of copresence. If tourists, daytrippers, migrants, and residents are all considered to be mobile subjects, then this condition of universal mobility complicates the old dichotomy between tourists and residents and blurs any predetermined category and polarity, such as home/away or work/leisure (Page, 2004). For this reason, copresence is preferentially observed in dynamic or ephemeral interactions that mostly occur while people are on the move, and in the specific places where this movement takes place (such as airports, train stations, streets, malls…). The mobile crowd provides the ideal stage on which to observe temporary heterogeneous groupings and the way communication arises between individuals, regardless of whether they share elements of identity or solidarity.

10Geographers also have observed mobile crowds; they investigate people’s movements in trains, airports (Frétigny, 2011), or in subways (Tillous, 2009). These researchers emphasize the importance of spatiality and observe improvised choreographies. They carefully describe the dimensions and morphology of hubs. They consider that the temporary but unavoidable association between groups with very different behaviours occurs in a way that may either be voluntary or imposed to different degrees, depending on the level of congestion, with consequences in terms of stress, fear, violence, or sympathy. For them, copresence can be read in the strategies employed by individuals to maintain and secure their personal space, to keep the distances and inhabit differently various parts of the building. Jean-Baptiste Frétigny (2011) and Marion Tillous (2009) dwell on the layout of subway corridors and platforms or on the layout of terminals and both map precisely the mobilities (pedestrian pathways) and immobilities (waiting times) of hub users.

11We also turn toward researchers with an ethnologist sensitivity; they analyze the coexistence between tourists and residents after their practices. Kyle M. Woosnam, William Norman, and Ying Tianyu (2009) consider situations ranging from the expression of frictions, or sometimes open conflicts, to positive copresence forms between station users (polite and even friendly verbal interactions for example). These authors document numerous forms of mutual help, assistance, and even solidarity between regular users and tourists (when local people provide information to tourists on service times, give directions to lost tourists, help them with a ticket machine…). In their wake, David Bissell’s work is among the most inspiring to our study. It focuses on two dimensions: affective atmospheres (Löfgren, 2008; Bissel, 2010) and travellers’ physical accoutrements and luggage encumbrance (Bissel, 2009). The observation conducted at Newcastle Central Station shows that positive or negative interactions between users depend on spatiotemporal variables and on a coproduction that is influenced by the place, the context and by physical, visual, and verbal practices. We use this great variability of social moments a station can offer to begin our field work with a rigorous selection of the temporal context that would provide optimal conditions related to the diversity of users and the intensity of interactions.

Isaac Joseph’s Legacy: How to Observe People on the Move in Hubs

12Finally, we use the sociology of transit spaces to address tourists’ and travellers’ mobility skills and program of action (and interaction) in hubs. Copresence in hubs can be placed within the wider theoretical framework of the ecology of crowds (Freedman, 1975) and related to behavioural approaches to mobility and tourism mobility (Scott et al., 2014). In that respect, we are particularly interested in French sociological theories that consider any everyday mobile interaction as a situated experience (Joseph, 1999). We share Joseph’s vision in defining the station as a “lieu-mouvement” (the concept has no English translation in the literature yet). This expression refers to a distinct fragment of space endowed with various degrees of depth, but also a stage, an arena, a situation, the form that accommodates movement and the traces of the movement that it accommodates (Joseph, 1996: 8). This approach helps us to avoid two errors in the study of copresence in stations.

13The first error would be to exaggerate or to essentialize this copresence. As Antoine Hennion (2012) puts it, the normal state of individuals in a transit hub is that of “quasi-absence from others”: most collective adjustments between individuals are microlevel events, usually implicit. The second error would be to fully buy into the institutional discourses of the tourist and transportation industry actors, who are now acknowledging the value of stations as living places, even referring to them as “villages.” However, this approach remains essentially technocratic, and should not lead us to believe that traveller behaviours are necessarily determined by external factors such as Wi-Fi access, retail services, equipment. These artefacts should rather be seen as potential mediators of interaction. Sociologists say that the level of awareness of travellers in stations about these affordances depends on how much they are mentally “in touch” with their immediate environment (technical, spatial, and social). Joseph’s followers study travellers’ action programs in a station and focus on two elements.

14The first is the engagement of travellers with the station space, with its objects, or with the society within it, which alternates with sequences of floating, that is, disengagement, when no particular action or interaction is taking place (Dubuisson et al., 1999). The oscillation between engagement and disengagement affects the forms of copresence. When travellers engage in mobility, copresence patterns may be directed to a utilitarian end (getting from A to B). When they disengage, actions and interactions are oriented toward other goals (talking with others for pleasure, etc.).

15The second determinant of a travellers’ behaviour depends on mobility skills, that is, a more or less conscious mix of knowledge, reflexes, and practices in which they combine prior cognitive and practical resources with environment. More recently, Vincent Kaufmann, Emmanuel Ravalet, and Élodie Dupuit (2016) propose a related but distinct concept, motility, to refer to a form of social capital that is acquired in the family environment and characterizes the capacity for mobility at different levels. This literature is important to keep in mind that, above atmosphere and affects, experience and knowledge underpin the use of transit systems. Regular travellers have these embodied skills of suburban travel and they mobilize technical forms of expertise (ticketing, timetables, ways of being in a crowd). Hence, they can engage and disengage quite comfortably, that is, they remain calm in congested conditions (ambient noise, jostling) and their travel experience is rather good, even should certain displeasures occur.

16We are now ready to explore the particularities of weekend copresence in Fontainebleau Station based on two propositions: Does the fact of travelling on a Saturday or Sunday change the conditions of copresence? Do social patterns and types of movements differ among traveller categories?

Flow Observation and Social Practices at Fontainebleau Station

Building the Observation Protocol and Measuring Traveller Flows

17It is well known that most visits to metropolitan recreational and cultural sites take place before the summer months (from Easter to June) and in autumn (Pröbstl et al., 2010). Existing surveys say that the high seasons for tourist trips to Fontainebleau follow the same patterns (Ministère de l’Écologie et de la Durabilité, 2015): about 50% of the 500,000 tourists experience the castle during the months of April to June or September to October. Hence, we conducted three series of observations, each over three weekends (October 2016, January and June 2017). A dozen of observers were posted at the different entrances to the station, in the main station hall, and in the surrounding areas (car parks), from 09:00 to 20:00.

Table 1 : Elements of Inquiry and Applied Methods Developed

Table 1 : Elements of Inquiry and Applied Methods Developed

Source: The authors.

18The results (figure 2) show very sharp variations in station footfall depending on the season, the day, and the time of day. First, all year long, from Monday to Friday, about 3000 people use daily the station and most of the passenger flows head toward Paris in the morning and return from Paris in the evening. The peak influx in the morning is very short, from 06:30 to 8:00, and in the evening it goes from 17:30 to 20:00.

19Second, the season and weather conditions obviously affect traffic, especially weekend traffic. Fontainebleau Station handles an average of 2000 users per weekend day (Saturday and Sunday) in January, the quietest month (average established on Saturdays and Sundays, January 7, 8, 14, and 15, 2017), and more than 5200 weekend users between 09:00 and 20:00 in June (the busiest month).

Figure 2: Daily Footfall at Fontainebleau Station

Figure 2: Daily Footfall at Fontainebleau Station

Source: The authors.

20Third, the specific day and time of observation are crucial considering that variations really matter. On Saturdays and Sundays, the main direction of travel is from Paris to Fontainebleau, and the peak influx times are distinct from what goes on during the week. Obviously, the trains to Paris are crowded from Monday to Saturday, the peak being early morning. On Saturday and Sunday, the main direction is from Paris to Fontainebleau and trains remain crowded for a longer period: the affluence in the station is high until noon.

21Fourth observation, the imbalance in the direction of travel between Paris and Fontainebleau is greatest on Sunday (on Saturday, it is quite even in both directions).

22Fifth, very large numbers of travellers head back to Paris on Sunday evenings; they crowd the entire station and its surroundings. Moreover, this Sunday evening return rush is long, stretching from mid-afternoon until evening. Recurrent observations even show that it lasts longer when the weather is nice. That is why we identified Sunday, between 04:00 and 20:00, as a distinctive moment in the social life of the station and as a suitable time to provide the framework for the analysis of copresence.

Figure 3: Sunday Afternoon Peak: Cumulative Frequentation of Different Types of Travellers

Figure 3: Sunday Afternoon Peak: Cumulative Frequentation of Different Types of Travellers

23Source: The authors.

Spatializing Practices and Behaviours

24In trying to link this understanding of the intensity of station use with the forms of station presence and types of practices, we outlined the following criteria regarding the users we wanted to analyze:

  • users travelling on their own or in a group,

  • clues pointing to a specific category of users (suitcase or large luggage, carrier bag with a store logo, hiker’s backpack, climbing gear, camera, or any other apparatus suggesting tourist activity),

  • travellers’ actions and interactions: chatting, interaction with a ticket machine, a retail outlet…

25The information gleaned from this exercise is consistent with the counting operations and helped to support the initial hypotheses. It shows that the population that passes through this station is diverse, with highly variable proportions of presumed tourists and daytrippers. On Saturdays in winter, daytrippers are almost non-existent (5%) and are a minority in June (less than 10%). Furthermore, the prevalence of bags with store logos is high on Saturdays, in both winter and summer (25% of travellers), showing that Saturday is a shopping day or more broadly a day characterized by general movement, including of a high proportion of local residents (this fact is confirmed through observing the station car park, where they are dropped off and picked up by acquaintances). In behavioural terms, these users, both outgoing and incoming, pass through the station without any particular action or interaction. These are visibly regular users of the line, their interactions happening only with their travelling companions, and seldom with station personnel or artefacts (they do not use the ticket machine as they all have a smartcard). From this, we can conclude that Saturday users are visibly locals and regulars, they already use the station on weekdays to commute to and from work, and are comfortable with the environment.

26On Sunday mornings, the scenario of copresence is very different. Around 40% of the passenger flows from Paris to Fontainebleau consist of travellers with no major distinctive feature (the same types of local users as on Saturdays), while 60% belong to three fairly recognizable groups, made up of several types of daytrippers.

  • The first, a large majority, consists of hikers. They travel in groups (up to 100 people), are often older (roughly 50-70 years), and are identifiable thanks to their specific equipment (boots, walking poles, backpacks, hiking maps). They are dominant in numbers (approximately 50%).

  • The second group consists of rock climbers. These young men (an overwhelming majority) with a “post-hippie” look always move with foam mats on their backs and in smaller groups (of 2 to 6). Their behaviour and body language show that they are at ease with the station and mobility issues, and that they are very much familiar with one another (jokes, party atmosphere). They do not linger at this train stop and immediately head for the forest after a glance at the map. They form the second dominant group (46%).

  • The third group is much smaller (a maximum of 10 per train). It is composed of foreign tourists (from their conversation it is obvious that they are not French speakers; most look of Asian origin), clearly unsure of their direction. They spend more time in the station in search of information (bus timetables to the Château, location of hiking tracks…) (4%).

27On the Sunday evening return to Paris, these users travel with a last group we had not noticed in the morning. This fourth group consists of young travellers with lots of luggage, regularly accompanied by older people who do not take the train.

28We now expand this typology through a combination of ethnological observation and pathway mapping.

Figure 4: Access to the Station and Trains, According to User Typology

Figure 4: Access to the Station and Trains, According to User Typology

Source: The authors.

29The layout of Fontainebleau Station is very simple: a café next to the station building, a bus station, a bike and car park at the other side, two platforms, one for each direction, and direct access from the station forecourt to the Paris platform so that travellers do not need to enter the station. Despite this simplicity, travellers’ spatial behaviours seem to differ. Three pathway types can be associated very closely with our four user groups: accessing the station forecourt, having a last drink at the station café, finding the entrance, entering the building, looking for information on the train schedule and platform, buying (or not) a ticket at the machine, then waiting inside the building or moving to the platform, and finally boarding the train: these are the programs of actions observed, and, on that occasion, we notice the way people negotiate space and develop social interactions.

30The preferred pathways for hikers to access their return train to Paris follow the brown line (figure 2). These travellers, mainly walkers and climbers, make sure they arrive in advance and enjoy a last beer on the café terrace with their friends. A few minutes before the train is due, they go directly to the platform (where there use a card-swipe machine), bypassing the station building. Once on the platform, they walk to the end so that they can leave the train quickly and easily and avoid the crowds when they get off the train at Paris Gare de Lyon. They also stay together and talk unceasingly. Climbers use the café more frequently than hikers. If they also bypass the station, they more usually “inhabit” the platform for half an hour or so, sitting on their mats, eating and drinking together, sometimes singing, doing stretching exercises…

31The young people with heavy luggage are often accompanied by their parent(s). They follow most frequently the blue line. They also seem quite at ease in the station. They avoid the station building (except in extremely hot or wet weather) and they stand apart from the hikers and climbers, perhaps because of the latter’s warm sociability and noise. They seem to remain quiet until the last moment before boarding, when they kiss their parents goodbye.

32These groups differ from the foreigners who mostly follow the pink pathway after arriving (usually) very early, by bus, from their Château visit. They appear disoriented while outside the station. All choose to wait for the train in the station and occupy two specific places in the hall: the seats and places where screens are visible. After looking for information and services while waiting for the train, they move from ticket machines to seats, and from seats to information screens, until the platform number is posted, and the train’s arrival confirmed. They look as though their weekend is over, and boredom and stress seem to characterize their travel experience.

Interpretation of Results

33Our results are consistent with previous findings and support the hypothetical segmentation of user types. We have stated that Sunday evening is the time where social intensity and heterogeneity are at their highest, and that the station comprises a multiplicity of individual itineraries. We can better perceive that many people might not be sharing a journey, but rather have multiple overlapping journeys. The fact of “being with” other people seems experienced differently and produces dissimilar spatial arrangements connected to social strategies. Briefly, in such a transportation place, collectives are visibly splintered. Four populations coexist without mixing, or better said, do not mix and interact in the same way. The most surprising result is that tourists (château visitors and sport excursionists) do not oppose non-tourists (local people). The great divide occurs between international tourists (a majority of château visitors) on one side and the three other groups (local people, climbers, and walkers) on the other side.

34This gives us a first result, developed below, and a main hypothesis for further applied work. We state that such a divide is clearly associated with the uneven level of familiarity and easiness to relate to the physical and social environment of the station. We believe it might lay in the mobility skills and with the former experience of the Parisian transit system. One of the clues is the way users accomplish the specific practice enacted in order to become a passenger, that is, the use of the validation system. An overwhelming majority of excursionists and local people swipe quite instinctively their smartcards in the right place at the right moment, whereas international tourists buy paper tickets or, when they have a card, search for the right place and validation mode.

35We can thus deduce that non-intrusive approaches give useful insights on how to articulate spatial and social dimensions of copresence. In the ways the space is used, we can find elements to better understand the significance of being with others whilst on the move, because a certain type of contact at a distance is enacted in non-verbal communication. The fact that people with a similar behaviour share a specific place creates different mobility atmospheres. Affects can be spatialized through the notion of atmosphere. For this reason, mobile atmospheres are a good approach to this opposition, because they grasp the affects, emotions, and feelings that passengers experience in such a moment. For David Bissel, “atmospheres are a relational potential, invisible, nonrepresentational, forming part of the ubiquitous backdrop of everyday life on the move . . . It is a propensity: a pull or a charge that might emerge in a particular space which might generate particular events and actions, feelings and emotions” (2010: 272). Secluded in the interior of the station for a long time before the train arrives, château visitors accept a sheer density and a close proximity to one another (47% are clustered on or around the few seats, 13% under information panels), but do not interact much. The intensity of relational practices is not really visible: they are more focused on technological devices. The atmosphere inside the station is calm and quiet, quite dull. It is simply a transportation atmosphere.

Figure 5: A Relaxed Social Atmosphere at the Station

Figure 5: A Relaxed Social Atmosphere at the Station

Photo: Nacima Baron, June 2017.

36The atmosphere on the platform and around the station greatly differs during weekends (figure 5): it can be defined as relaxed, sometimes euphoric. The few minutes before the train arrives are still part of the weekend, and this animation develops a sort of implicit togetherness and kindness. People travelling together interact in particularly playful, less inhibited ways, smiling, chattering, joking, with bursts of laughter. People who travel by themselves, namely residents and sportsmen, keep their distances on different parts of the platform, and do not necessarily talk with others. Yet, this energetical atmosphere is produced, transmitted, and commonly enjoyed through non-verbal communication, thanks to the visual apprehension of other passengers’ well-being or excitement. Such a positive atmosphere is much less documented in the literature on transport than anomic or even “misanthropic” atmospheres connected with the stress and fear shared more commonly among passengers in suburban transit.

Negotiating Skills Identities Through Leisure Transport

Sunday Return Trip, an Interface Between Leisure and Travel Experiences

37Our survey lead to a discussion proposal. The first is that the mode of presence at stations depends on mobility skills, which in turn create a routine; in other words a set of rituals associated with the use of trains. We confirmed by observation that residents and certain tourists share these mobility skills and feel comfortable in the station. Psychologically, they enjoy Sunday, they use their time in stations as a gift and recall a few extra moments on this lovely day to the forest or among their relatives (Jain and Lyons, 2008). Some even transform the station into a social place. Climbers, particularly, treat the station platform as a sort of performance space, while others, like the local people, play a less ebullient role, but rather try to maintain their bubble of family privacy by keeping their distance from the excitement. Whether they are exteriorizing their feelings or not (it comes back to the engagement / disengagement distinction), we see how travellers accustomed to suburban lines comfortably manage going back-and-forth between phases of attention to travel arrangements and phases of social life. They stand slightly back to glance occasionally at the information screen while they keep on chatting. As for travellers that can undoubtedly be recognized as foreign tourists, they no longer feel like they are experiencing a nice Sunday moment. They are psychologically immersed in a mobility sequence. Unfortunately, they have the most limited interactions with people who could help them but whom they cannot approach because the latter are outside on the platform, waiting for the train.

Identity and Social Appropriation of a Leisure Destination

38Positive copresence in a hub requires much more than knowing the technicalities of suburban mobility; it may bring into play implicit relations between mobility, leisure, and social identities, and maybe prior patterns of relations to the destination and the transit experience. On this subject, historians such as Colin Divall and George Revill (2005) have underlined the connection between cultures of tourism and practices of rail transportation throughout the 19th and 20th centuries (see also Amat and Hotyat, 1984). Fontainebleau is perhaps one of the best historical examples of the co-construction of recreational movements and residential strategies; the vignettes in figure 6 help us to understand its historical trajectory.

Figure 6: Socio-spatial Changes and Mobility Dynamics in a Metropolitan Leisure Belt

Figure 6: Socio-spatial Changes and Mobility Dynamics in a Metropolitan Leisure Belt

Source: Original map by authors.

39Fontainebleau Station opened in 1849 as a stop on the intercity Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée line. Once located on the edge of the town, the station stimulated the development of daytrips to the forest (Poupardin, 2012). Half a century later, around 1910, Fontainebleau turned into a Parisian residential colony, local people opened restaurants and hotels to exploit the presence of Sunday visitors, and the town boomed (figure 7). Another half century later, by the mid-1960s, as a result of railway electrification, Fontainebleau became part of the Paris transit system. The town did not expand, since the protected forest prohibited new districts to be built, but it densified. The new generations to settle were no longer bourgeois but white-collar, daily commuters, and local historians underline the fact that they were already sharing the “aristocratic” forest culture and love of that place. In 1964, weekend rail traffic declined as a result of the opening of the Paris-Lyon expressway (Kalaora, 1981). The cohorts of hikers arriving by train became smaller, but they are now entering in a new growth cycle.

Figure 7: Fontainebleau Tourist and Resident Shared Heritage

Figure 7: Fontainebleau Tourist and Resident Shared Heritage

Poster painted by F.H. d’Alési for the P.L.M. (Paris Lyon Méditerranée) company and edited by Hachette in 1892

Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

40What these groups have in common is their positive appreciation of the forest and its natural and cultural features. The experience of nature contact, during the week for some, on Sundays for others, is a common cultural resource. As investigations at the Association “Amis de la Forêt” and latest works reveal, the parents or grandparents of Fontainebleau inhabitants were former daytrippers and chose to settle there (Salaun, 2017). In other words, historical records show a long-term connection between leisure and residential mobilities (Berroir et al., 2017). The likely reason for such good atmosphere at the station could be that every Sunday evening, residents, hikers, and climbers recognize implicitly one another as forest lovers. The implicit acceptance or tolerance by residents of the ebullient daytrippers is linked with recognizable clues (hiking and climbing equipment). Conversely, the château tourists are marginalized probably because they do not show any indication of their belonging to the place, or knowledge of its meaning (Hannam and Urry, 2007).


41A suburban station, particularly on a Sunday evening, is an interesting place to observe travel rituals and forms of copresence between groups of train users. Adopting a sociological approach helps to examine the concrete situations of traveller engagement with the experience of travel and social life. We have shown that users handle travel in their own ways, with the mobility skills they have, and the anchors they find or create for themselves. Prior knowledge of the transit system and destination (whose respective roles have yet to be measured) count a great deal in how easily daytrippers alternate sequences focusing on the act of travelling and moments of sociability.

42A suburban station is really a singular place to learn tourism practices of mobility, standing as it does at the intersection of leisure and travel, destination, and infrastructure network. Our survey also assigns great importance to the spatial practices of travellers (pedestrian pathways, physical occupancy of places), connecting the micro-ecology of behaviours with scales (the station building, its immediate urban environment with parkings, cafés, and pathways, the forest and castle as destinations, the metropolitan area). We also place much importance on the historical sedimentation of the modes of access to and within the destination and think these elements play a role in the way travellers represent themselves, feel, and act collectively.

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1 MUTANDIS 2019-2021, “Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Mobility in Periurban Areas,” Université Paris-Est, Urban Futures Program, <>, accessed November 15, 2019.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1 : Leisure Sites Accessible by Train in the Paris Region
Credits Source: Original map. Data drawn from the Société nationale des chemins de fer (SNCF).
File image/jpeg, 826k
Title Table 1 : Elements of Inquiry and Applied Methods Developed
Credits Source: The authors.
File image/jpeg, 347k
Title Figure 2: Daily Footfall at Fontainebleau Station
Credits Source: The authors.
File image/jpeg, 123k
Title Figure 3: Sunday Afternoon Peak: Cumulative Frequentation of Different Types of Travellers
File image/jpeg, 115k
Title Figure 4: Access to the Station and Trains, According to User Typology
Credits Source: The authors.
File image/jpeg, 356k
Title Figure 5: A Relaxed Social Atmosphere at the Station
Credits Photo: Nacima Baron, June 2017.
File image/jpeg, 639k
Title Figure 6: Socio-spatial Changes and Mobility Dynamics in a Metropolitan Leisure Belt
Credits Source: Original map by authors.
File image/jpeg, 1.5M
Title Figure 7: Fontainebleau Tourist and Resident Shared Heritage
Caption Poster painted by F.H. d’Alési for the P.L.M. (Paris Lyon Méditerranée) company and edited by Hachette in 1892
Credits Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France.
File image/jpeg, 516k
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Electronic reference

Nacima Baron and Ali Hassan, « Copresence is a Problematic Resource for Leisure Mobility », Téoros [Online], 1 | 39, Online since 07 February 2020, connection on 24 February 2020. URL :

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About the authors

Nacima Baron

Professor, Université Paris-Est, Laboratoire Ville Mobilité Transport, LVMT-ENPC ;

By this author

Ali Hassan

Postdoctoral student, Université Paris-Est, Laboratoire Ville Mobilité Transport, LVMT-ENPC ;

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