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Public Transportation in Paris, the Metro
Kim Riemann (Kim)
Everyone says the Paris metro is the best in the world, easy to use with plenty of stations, and after my recent visit to Paris, I am here to say they are right! The Paris metro contains fourteen lines that crisscross Paris in every conceivable direction. You can traverse the city in no time using a single line or a combination of lines.
Metro stations can take any number of forms from above ground. What they have in common are stairs going down and usually a sign that says "Metro" or "Metropolitan" above the entrance.
As you can see from the photo below, they often have a map either near the entrance above ground from which you can discern your location and the route you need to take.
Paris Metro Entrance
RER (regional) Trains
Do not confuse a Metro station with an RER station. These are two different sets of trains. The RER, while running through Paris, also runs farther afield (e.g., to the airports or Euro Disney) and makes limited stops within the city. You can use metro tickets on RER trains within the city (zones one and two) but don't try to go further; on the RER you must produce your ticket at departure and if you haven't paid enough for your trip, the departure turnstiles will not open. RER entrances look like metro stations but say RER above them and indicate the line (e.g., A, B, C). While metro lines are numbered (1 through 14), RER lines are designated by a letter of the alphabet (A through E).
Purchase tickets in the metro station either from the person in the booth or from one of the automated ticket machines (see photo). The ticket machines display instructions in multiple languages.
How to Use the Ticket Machine
Step 1 - Use the roller: The machine has a roller that you use to select your language but first you must decide if you want to buy tickets (move the roller up) or recharge a current card (move the roller down). After you select which operation you would like to perform, you select your language. English is an option. In this example we are purchasing tickets.
Step 2 - Validate with the green button: Next you choose the type of ticket you would like to purchase. You can buy up to 12 individual tickets at one time. Individual tickets cost €1.40 or you can purchase a one or two carnet. A carnet is ten individual tickets but you get them at the discounted rate of €10.90. So if you are going to make more than seven trips, don't buy an individual ticket, buy a carnet. The carnet comes out as individual T-tickets, so you can divide them among multiple riders.
Step 3 - Pay with cash or credit card: Next you pay for your tickets. You have two options, cash or credit card. I must say though, we never did find a place where we could insert a euro note, only coins, and from the picture of the instructions that seems to hold true, so if you don't have coins, you must use a credit card. A word of warning on the credit card, once you slide it in, make sure you wait until it specifically tells you to remove the card before taking it, otherwise the machine cancels the entire transaction.
Instructions on Paris Metro ticket machine
Entering the Station
That's it; now you have your tickets. It's time to find the train.
First you have to go through the turnstile. Place your ticket in the slot in the front of the turnstile machine. Before you go through the turnstile though, retrieve your ticket. You may be stopped by an inspector at some point during the journey and you will need to produce this ticket. Once you leave the metro, you no longer need it.
Put your ticket in the machine
Retrieve the ticket and the gate opens
Finding the Correct Direction
The metro doesn't travel east or west. Nor does it travel uptown or downtown. To determine which direction you want to go, you need to know the end terminus of the line on which you are traveling.
Check the metro map to find your destination. In the photos below you can see that we are at the St. Germain station on Line 4. If our destination station falls between St. Germain and Porte de Clignacourt on the metro line, then we are traveling in the direction of Porte de Clignacourt. If our destination falls between St. Germain and Porte d'Orléans, then we are traveling in the direction of Porte d'Orléans.
On the metro maps you also see the other stations along line 4 where you can transfer to other lines (e.g., you can transfer to line 6 at Raspail) or if you need to transfer to the RER (e.g., you can transfer to line B on the RER at Denfert-Rochereau).
Waiting for the Train
Once you've determined your direction, you follow the corresponding signs down to the appropriate platforms. Some platforms have signs that show you how long until the next train arrives and the one afterwards. This could be handy if the first train pulls in and is packed, it may be worth waiting for the second train if you know it will follow in a few minutes.
On the Train – Where to Sit, Where to Get Off
The metro is like any other mode of public transportation without reserved seats, first come first served. You should note though, that the fold-down seats near the doors should only be used when the train is not crowded. If a crowd fills the train, these seats should be folded up, and you should stand to make more room. Remember too, if standing, hold on to one of the poles that run from floor to ceiling on the train.
Getting off is almost as easy as getting on. When you pull into each station, signs clearly mark the name of the station. In the photo below you see the sign marking the station as Saint-Michel. Also note in this picture the line map that hangs above the door in the train. This marks each stop on the metro line so you can easily discern how many stops until yours. Each train has these.
Looking out from the train to see the name of the station
One important thing to note when riding the metro, the doors do not open automatically at each stop. You don't have to push or pull them but some doors have a latch you must undo while others have a button to press. Once you do that, the doors slide open. They do, however, close automatically.
That's it, you're done. You can transfer trains on the metro by following signs for the line you need, and the direction you want. You do not need to buy another ticket in order to transfer. To leave the station, follow signs that say, "Sortie."
I have no personal experience with the Carte Orange but this is my understanding on how it works.
You can find more information on the Carte Orange but since this method of payment is not intended for visitors, you will not find an English translation.
These are multi-day passes, similar to Carte Orange but intended for visitors' use. Like the Carte Orange, I do not have personal experience with them but this is my understanding on how they work:
To find more information including fare information, visit the RATP site.
T-ticket versus Carte Orange versus Paris Visite
This debate ranks up there with the chicken and the egg debate. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. With the T-tickets, you must purchase tickets as often as you need them (and carry those tiny slips of paper with you) but you won't have to worry about making an investment in something you do not use.
Both the Carte Orange and Paris Visite provide you the convenience of carrying only two items, the pass used to insert into the turnstile and either the ID card (Carte Nominative as it's properly called) or the envelope that accompanies the Paris Visite. With them though, you have the responsibility of remembering these things when you walk out the door. Forget them, and you are back to using the T-ticket or trekking back to your domicile to retrieve the missing item.
The Carte Orange is cheaper than the Paris Visite but has the forced time frame of Monday through Sunday. If you're visiting the city from Wednesday through Tuesday, for example, buying the Carte Orange won't be as economical nor will it be economical if you are visiting for only a few days. It could take a giant spreadsheet to determine which method would be most economical.
As of July 2006, a T-ticket cost €1.40, if you bought a carnet (10 tickets), the average cost per ticket is €1.09. A Paris Visite for one day costs €8.50 which means if you were going to make eight trips on the Metro in a day, it makes sense to purchase the Paris Visite (disregarding any accompanying discounts). If not a carnet would be the way to go (and then you'd have some tickets left for the next day). A two day adult costs €13.95, which means you would need to take seven trips a day on the Metro to make the two-day Paris Visite more economical than the carnet. A three day adult pass, €18.60, down to six trips a day to make it more worthwhile than a carnet and so on.
So you see it really depends how much you intend to walk versus ride. Whether you want to gamble on buying something you may not get full economic use of but have the convenience of only making a purchase once versus spending time purchasing tickets when you need them.
Either way, it's a personal decision that each traveler needs to make when visiting Paris. No matter what you decide though, you're in Paris – what could be bad?
www.ratp.info: Paris metro official site with information on tickets, passes and routes
Slow Travel Photos: Larger versions of photos on this page and more photos of the Paris metro
Kim and her family love to travel. In recent years, they've visited London, Paris, Italy and Israel. Upcoming plans include Vermont with returns to Paris and Italy. Kim is a Slow Travel Talk message board moderator. You can read about Kim’s travel adventures on her Slow Travel Member page, and her blog, Kim's Musings.
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