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Worlds of Transit

photo: rer a train

Not all trains are underground all the time.

Paris Life – No 42

by Laurel Avery

Paris:– Friday, 12. March 2004:– Not being a guy, I had no qualms whatever about giving up my car when I moved to Paris. Driving is something I do to get from one place to another, and if someone else is willing to do it for me, so much the better.

One of the greatest features of life in Paris is its public transportation, specifically the Métros and buses.photo: bus 38 You can buy a 'carnet' of ten tickets for only 10€, so for only one euro you can get all the way from one side of Paris to the other – a better deal than in any other major city I've visited.

Bus 38 has its own Web site.

If I can get to my destination on a direct bus route, I prefer to take the bus. Unfortunately, you can't transfer from one bus to another on the same ticket like you can in New York. But it's nicer than the Métro in that you can get a little 'sightseeing' done.

Even if you live in Paris, it's nice to be reminded of that fact when you look out at a picture–postcard view down the Seine towards Notre Dame as the bus passes over the Pont Royal. When you are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, who wants to travel underground?

There are, however, a couple of drawbacks to taking the bus.

Though the first Métro was proposed in the early 1870s, typical bureaucratic red tape kept it from becoming a reality until 1895. With the approach of the 1900 Exposition, Paris was supposed to project an image of a modern city on the cutting edge of science and technology. The first Métro line was inaugurated in July of 1900 and was an immediate success.

Hector Guimard designed the original Métro entrances, reflecting the Art Nouveau style that was prevalent at the time. Though many of Guimard's creations have been demolished, they are now considered part of the artistic heritage of Paris and the several that remainphoto: metro entry, bus were classified as protected monuments in 1965.

Since, of course, the buses share the road with all other Parisian vehicles, if you need to get to your destination at a certain time you need to leave extra early to allow for possible traffic jams. Also, this being France, there is often a 'manifestation' along some part of your route. Then the bus is blocked and they either get re–routed or canceled altogether.

Old–fashioned entry has been renovated recently.

More reliable – though not as picturesque – is the Métro, which is something like entering Hades. You descend from the living world into narrow tunnels full of people rushing about in five different directions, hurtle along through the dark in a metal box, to eventually emerge at the other end in a completely different place. Very existential.

Taking the Métro is also cheaper than joining a gym for those who want to get their daily dose of exercise. Trekking up and down all the stairs, especially if you have a couple of transfers to make, are more work than using a StairMaster.

It's illegal to play music in the Métro stations unless you have one of the 360 special licenses to do so, which are issued by Paris' RATP, which is the transport authority that runs the Métro. Every six months 1000 people apply for these few coveted licenses, and most of those who acquire them are quite talented.

The Metro at Châtelet regularly features an entire string orchestra, and passengers congregatephoto: metro line 6 on nearby stairs, making a temporary amphitheater out of the station. This location is also a roadblock for serious passengers trying to switch from Métro line 1 to 4, or any the other three lines at Châtelet.

Line 6 Métro switches from overhead to underground.

There is usually at least one musician on every train, not all of whom are licensed, who play their bit for two or three stops then move on to the next car. They are often just one or two guys with an accordion and rhythm machine, with the occasional violin thrown in.

The Métro is a great place to people–watch. I've never seen such an interesting cross–section of society as I've encountered in a typical Métro wagon. People of all shapes, sizes, nationalities and ages – all moving along together beneath this ageless city.

About the Métro, Buses and Bikes

There are several useful Web sites for gathering information about public transit in Paris. Here are some:

The RATP's Web site is the official one, and has just about everything except the location of the boutique for the RATP's souvenirs.

For transit information try Cité Futée which should be up–to–date about the current state of how things are going, along with tips for travellers.

The city bus line running from the Porte d'Orléans to Gare du Nord has its own Web site called Bus 38 Online. This also has links to other bus lines with Web sites, plus bus lines in other cities. The Web site has been done by the crew of the number 38 line.

This RATP partner, Roue Libre, rents bikes by the hour, the half–day, the day, the week, the month or the year. When the nicephoto: roue libre bus weather arrives, they load some of the bikes in an old bus, and bring them to where you are. Rental rates begin at 3.00€ per hour and go up to 12.00€ for a day, and to 50.00€ for a month.

A bus full of bikes – why not?

A single ticket for either the Métro or a bus, costs 1.30€. Ask for a 'carnet' and get 10 tickets for 10€, and you save 3€.

For a lot of unlimited stop–go travelling on the Métro and buses, there is a 'Mobilis' ticket for 5.20€ per day, for use in Paris' inner zones 1 and 2. This ticket is also available for a variety of transit zones, such as 1–3, up to 1–8. This ticket can also be used on the SNCF's suburban train lines.

The justly famous 'Carte Orange' ticket requires a photo, but is good for unlimited travel for a week or a month. The minimum zone combination is 1–2, and this costs 14.50€ for week or 48.60€ for a month. Be sure to write the card number on the ticket, or it will not be valid.

A 'Paris Visite' ticket allowing unlimited travel on either Métro or buses, for use within Paris' inner zones 1–3, costs 8.35€ for one day and 18.25€ for three days.

The 'Museums & Monuments' ticket, good for unlimited travel and entry to museums, costs 18.00€ for a day and 36.00€ for three days. Some of the tickets above also entitle users to various discounts – on the Seine's BatoBus, for example.

The yellow open top double–decker 'OpenTour' buses, which have several routes, that stop andphoto: bus stop sign, 219 rungis pickup at all the major sites, have unlimited tickets costing 24.00€ for one day, and 27.00€ for two days.

The airport at Charles–de–Gaulle is served by the Roissybus making round–trips to and from the Opéra. One way costs 8.20€. Orly's airport is equally served by the Orlybus, which makes its round–trips from and to the RER station at Denfert– Rochereau. One way costs 5.70€.

The RATP also rents buses for groups, and even has used buses for sale. Ask for rates at InfoTel.: 01 49 28 48 99, or InfoFax.: 01 49 28 49 15. The rental buses can be either modern ones or 'rétro' antiques. The buy–a–used–bus number is 01 49 25 65 28.

Text Laurel Avery © 2004

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