Friday, May 1, 2015

Riding the Paris Metro

I had a chance recently to spend a few days in Paris, with many trips on the Metro.  I’m not nearly as familiar with the Metro as I am with the London Underground (musings from my recent London excursion here), so I was eager to spend some time on it.
On the negative side, the Metro is looking distinctly rundown, especially in comparison with London.  It seems to work very well, but it’s looking a bit shabby.  The system is undergoing an upgrade, so one hopes that improvements will happen quickly.  The Number 1 Line (serving many of the tourist destinations) has already been upgraded and shows well.  Trains are modern (automated!) and stations are bright and clean.  Platform gates open only as train doors open, providing a safer environment.  Train announcements (much like London’s) are recorded and clear – even for those of us whose French is minimal.
Most of the other lines definitely could use refurbishment.  Trains and platforms are generally clean, but worn looking.  Announcements vary from mumbled, slangy French to (more commonly) nothing.  Although a few people have passes, most use paper tickets.
On the positive side, the whole system (based on a brief exposure) seems to work smoothly and efficiently, carrying huge numbers of people.  Headways are very short.  We never waited more than three minutes for the next train.
The best part – for me – is that the Metro forms a genuine rapid transit grid for the entire city.  Almost no part of Paris proper is more than a few blocks from a Metro stop, with many interconnections to other lines.  (This is in stark contrast with US cities, which are characterized by limited number of lines, mostly good for travel into and out of the CBD only.  Even London falls well short of the density and interconnectivity of Paris.)  The dense Paris rapid transit grid does not, however, extend very far into the poorer outer suburbs, a social and political problem, as well as a transportation one, which the French are grappling with now.

With all its pluses (and a few minuses which are being worked on), the Paris Metro is fun and useful to ride – especially because wherever the system takes you, you’re still in Paris.  And Paris, as they say, is never a bad idea.

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