During the recent media coverage to mark the second anniversary of the BatCub ferry service on the Garonne in central Bordeaux, I realis...

Riding the Garonne waves on board a BatCub ferry


During the recent media coverage to mark the second anniversary of the BatCub ferry service on the Garonne in central Bordeaux, I realised it was about time that I myself hopped on one of the boats to see what it was all about.

Hirondelle and La Gondole are the names of the two BatCub boats (Bat for “bateau”, and “CUB” for Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux, which has since been renamed Bordeaux Métropole rendering the “Cub” reference somewhat obsolete). The ferries were designed and manufactured by local companies, and were first launched on May 2nd 2013. The service is run by boating company Gens d’Estuaire for the public transport network operator Keolis.

During weekday rush-hour periods, the boats, which can carry up to 45 passengers and six bicycles, shuttle between stops on either side of the Garonne, with departures every fifteen minutes. At other times and over the weekend, the boats each connect three of the four stops (Lormont Bas, Les Hangars, Quinconces, Stalingrad) and, by linking up at one of the overlap stops in the middle, the full circuit lasts 40 minutes.

The official map showing the two routes, which overlap in the middle (source: infotbc.com)
It is estimated that work commutes account for 60% of journeys while the remainder are simple boat trips, with people more than willing to pay €1.50 for the pleasure of being out on the water. And passenger figures are up: after 110,000 trips being registered during the first twelve months, the second year that figure soared to 210,000, a little over the 200,000 that was initially targeted.

Success was anything but instant though. Soon after the service was launched, faulty engines on one of the boats resulted in both being taken out of service until the problem was fixed. Substitute boats were used in the interim. Then, in July 2013, the engine of one of the BatCubs broke down and the drifting boat hit the Pont de Pierre before becoming stranded under one of the arches of the bridge. Happily, the 38 passengers were quickly evacuated to safety.

Pictured on the left is a BatCub in all its splendour, not to confused with the Batmobile or Batboat (pictured right, sources Hammacher Schlemmer and Daily Mail/Getty)
From then on, things could only get better, and generally they did… at least until April 2015, when human error caused one of the boats to hit the Burdigala river cruise barge. And prior to that, the BatCubs had courted controversy, with other Garonne boats-people filing a petition against the relative high speed of the BatCubs that causes unwanted waves on the surface of the water.

This all made me rather curious and impatient to board one of the boats for myself, which I finally managed on a hot, sunny Sunday morning, departing from Lormont with a handful of other passengers at 10am. There was a pleasant atmosphere about the boat and people roamed freely around the deck taking in the sights.

The scene on board.
This included an impressive full-on panoramic view of Pont d’Aquitaine, which seemed strangely tranquil, possibly because it was closed to traffic on that Sunday morning. We then sailed close to the mysterious rig-with-no-name which was the subject of a recent feature on the blog. Nearing the left bank, we were able to inspect the work in progress on the spectacular Cité des Civilisations du Vin which is taking shape in the Bacalan district.


Then, surprisingly, the skipper switched off the BatCub’s engines. A large cruise ship was due to depart from central Bordeaux and to accommodate this, the central section of the Pont Chaban-Delmas lift bridge was to be raised. The procedure takes around 15 minutes, so there was little we could do other than float on the spot and observe. But it wasn’t all bad news as it meant we then had the enviable pleasure of travelling under the bridge when it was in its spectacular raised position, making for some unusual mid-Garonne photo opportunities.


As the Batcub was now running late, the skipper announced that its first stop, “Les Hangars”, would also be its last, and that passengers would have to switch to the next boat in order to travel further. The wait wouldn’t be too long though as the boat, “La Mouette”, could already be seen some way further upstream. 

La Mouette? Not Hirondelle or La Gondole ? In fact, as I was about to find out, the sister BatCub boat was undergoing emergency repair work on its electronics system and a substitute boat was being used. But, just as I was about to embark with my yellow bicycle, I was informed that bikes were not allowed on La Mouette. My BatCub experience was therefore coming to a premature end and I hadn’t even reached Les Quinconces, let alone the southernmost terminus, Stalingrad. Reluctantly, I made an about turn and headed home, with a definite feeling of unfinished business.

The stunning silhouette of La Mouette, the substitute BatCub (no bikes allowed).
So what was the verdict? Well, a BatCub ride is possibly the most pleasant way possible of spending €1.50 on the public transport network in Bordeaux, and out on the water it really does feel like you’re taking in a whole new view of the city. However, as my experience showed, the boats do seem to be prone to technical issues and unforeseen changes. The plans I had made on the basis of the timetables available online had to be totally dropped. Additionally, it would have been good to know that the substitute boat didn’t accept bikes before preparing to board. So, in short, enjoy your BatCub voyage with its laid-back ambience and marvellous views, but also be prepared to be flexible as it’s clearly not always plain sailing!

1 comment:

  1. There is now another stop for the Batcub at the Cité du Vin

    ReplyDelete