Here are seven things you need to know about using the Paris Métro

Abesses station. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

For a panicked Briton thrown into the Parisian underground, the Paris Métro can be intimidating, confusing, and often simply infuriating. Here are the seven things you need to know – and not freak out about – if you’re planning on crossing the channel anytime soon.

1. Handles

Oh god the trains have handles. Literal handles. That you have to use in order for the doors to open, lifting the small piece of metal up slowly as you’re unsure if you’re going to break the train or lose your arm, only for the doors to snap open rapidly and viciously. You’re left standing confused and bemused, buffeted by the heavy station air – all while being furiously judged by Parisians.

Now don’t get me wrong, most Parisians are lovely. But when you see seasoned Métro veterans lifting the handle well ahead of time as the train coasts into the station, waiting impatiently for the hiss of the unlocking mechanism, it’s hard not to feel intimidated. Your average Briton, on the other hand, (read: me) can be relied upon to stare at the door, willing it to open automatically, only to miss their stop as the train rolls away.

It’s also worth noting that the doors open before the train has stopped moving. TfL officials would have kittens.

2. Double deckers

Some of the trains in Paris are double deckers and, here, that’s completely normal. Picturing such trains overground might be an easier imaginative leap for Tube-dwellers, but when you see one underground for the first time it’s a truly disarming experience.

These double-deckers are reserved for the busiest lines, running on the RER network, separate to (but overlapping with) the 16 normal single-decker Métro lines. Taking your seat on the upper deck is a disconcerting feeling at first, but when you’re almost guaranteed a seat and get a novelty experience in the bargain, it’s hard to complain.

3. Numbers and names

Part of the quaintness of the Tube is the line names, and the weird, almost-nationalism attached to whichever one you call home. But in Paris, the lines are just numbers. Boring, coloured numbers.

Station names, however, are amazing. Sure, there’s standard fare that you’d expect from tube stops around a capital city, with Bastille, République, Europe and Nation reflecting the squares from which they take their name. But Paris has a delightful little idiosyncrasy that London doesn’t have at all: the Parisians who mapped out the metro lines obviously had a real penchant for naming stations after famous figures.

You’ve got legendary authors, like Victor Hugo (Les Misérables) and Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers). You’ve got a station named after Pablo Picasso. You’ve got political figures, like Robespierre and, somewhat oddly, Franklin D. Roosevelt. (You can already see Macron rubbing his hands at the thought of having a station named after him in 50 years’ time.)

My stop, Parmentier, is named after the guy who discovered potatoes and brought them to France, saving thousands of Parisians' lives during a time of famine. There’s even a little statue of him giving a potato to an impoverished man. Inspiring stuff.


4. The Navigo

There’s no beating around the bush: the Parisian equivalent of the Oyster is a mess. For a start, there are two of them, with confusing and barely-existent differences between them. There’s the carte Navigo, for which you have to fill in a form and need to be a Parisian, and the carte Navigo Découverte (“discovery”), which costs €5 up front.

After navigating that little minefield, you then have to put credit on it. Whereas you might expect to charge it as you go like an Oyster card, reality is not that simple. You can only charge it for a week, or a month, constricted by the very narrowest calendar sense of each. For example, if it's Wednesday, buying a week pass doesn’t grant you seven days' worth of credit: it gives you until midnight on Sunday, at which point your credit is gone, ready for a new blue Monday. The same applies for a month – that credit drops off at midnight on the final day of the month. It’s a confusing system which needlessly complicates navigating the Métro – and no, you can’t pay with a contactless bank card as you pass through the gates.

5. Manual gates

Speaking of which, we need to talk about Paris’ metro gates. Many of them are manual, making you feel less like you’re travelling underground in a major European city, but rather like you’re passing through the turnstiles at an old football ground.

You have to push through the turnstile, and then push through the weird flappy door-gate thing just behind it. No, I’ve never incorrectly presumed that it was automatic and that my Navigo hadn’t worked before turning around and walking away. Why do you ask?

6. Advertising

We’re all used to seeing movie posters and “this amazingly well produced photo was shot on an iPhone that you can’t afford” ads lining Tube tunnels, but Paris has taken capitalism to a new level. This is Opéra station:

The entire station is one massive Destiny 2 advert. I mean, seriously, look at the light-up logo! Talk about maximising advertising revenue per square inch.

7. Older trains and fewer peoples

Some of the trains running are old. Creakingly, achingly old. If you look in the corner of a carriage, you can see disused screens from the past with manually-operated lights telling you which stop you’re approaching, like those on the front of old buses.

Combined with the handles and some suspiciously flickering lights, you’re one steam engine away from a strangely antiquated experience. It’s cute – if a little inefficient. You can’t help but suspect that the Métro has had far less money pumped into it than the Tube over the years.

****

The Paris Métro certainly takes some getting used to. Yet for all its strangeness, the experience is a positive one – it’s still a fantastic way around the city.

It’s also a reassuringly universal one. In London and Paris alike, there are cramped rush hours, efficient trains and – yes – incessant reminders to mind the bloody gap.

All images courtesy of the author.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.