This is what the Paris metro map looks like if you're in a wheelchair

Oh. Image: Screenshot of RATP interactive map.

Hey, so, TfL isn't the only city transport authority doing some pretty cool things with maps these days. RATP, its Parisian equivalent, has produced its own plan-interactif.

There are all sorts of exciting things you can do with this baby. You can use it to plan your journey:

 

You can check the time of the next trains:

 

You can pull up maps of the areas around a station:

 

It's good. If you're planning to be in Paris any time soon, it'll come in handy.

But one of the other whizzy things the map does is to highlight which bits of the network are accessible if you're in a wheelchair. And the results of that are, er, less good

Here's a screen shot of the whole network:

 

Here's what happens if you set it only to show “stations with wheelchair access directly to trains with no need for staff assistance”:

 

That's without staff assistance, though, so here's what happens if you include lines you can access with staff assistance.

 

One extra heavy rail line. But apparently not any of the stations on it, which is a bit weird, so we suspect there's a bug at work somewhere.


The problem here is not that the stations themselves aren't accessible: many Paris metro stations are “wheelchair accessible”, in that there are step-free routes down to the platforms. The problem is that the trains aren't.

This geographical map of transport in Paris from 2008 includes a list of stations, with a wheelchair symbol to note that they're step free. Almost all of them also have a little asterisk, pointing you towards a note that explains that you need an escort if you actually want to get the wheelchair onto a train.

To be fair to Paris, this is largely a legacy problem, and there are signs that RATP is trying to change things. The thing that the accessible lines have in common is that they're all relatively new: Line 14 of the Metro dates from 1998; the first of the trams opened in 1992.

We also think the interactive map might be a bit, er, wrong. According to the list linked to above, stations on RER E, which opened in 1998, are also step free. For some reason, they're not on the map of accessible lines.

But if the details are wrong, the overall message unfortunately seems to be accurate: if you're in a wheelchair, there are large chunks of Paris you can't get around under your own steam.

Which seems a bit sad, really.

Hat tip: Peter Apps, of the Project for the Study of the 21st Century

 
 
 
 

Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.


The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.