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

 
 
 
 

It’s time to rethink how the British railway network works

Nothing doing: commuters await a long-delayed train. Image: Getty.

The recent meltdowns on Northern and Thameslink not only left many passengers besides themselves with frustration about not being able to get to work on time, if at all. It also led to a firestorm of criticism and condemnation from politicians and media alike.

With the immediate shock of that first Monday morning of the meltdown passed, there’s a now a bigger debate about whether the way that rail services are provided for cities needs some far reaching reform. But before coming to that, the first thing to say – and as we set out in our Rail Cities UK report, launched today – is that the fundamentals for urban rail remain very strong.

Here’s why. All cities want to become denser, more dynamic places which attract the best people to the growth sectors of the economy (including the ‘flat white economy’ of media, communications and information). In order to achieve this, as well as to improve air quality, cities are also reducing space for motorised traffic in favour of space for people.

It’s very difficult to see how this can be achieved without expanding rail networks and their capacity. What’s more, if housing need is to be met without creating more sprawl and traffic congestion, then again its rail that will be key – because it opens up former rail-connected brownfield industrial sites, it extends commuting range, plus housing can be built above or around new or existing rail stations and interchanges.

In some ways there’s nothing new here. From Metroland to Docklands, successful cities have always grown with their rail networks. And to be fair, there is significant investment going into urban rail at present. Northern will get a lot better (the pacers are doomed) and both Merseyside and Tyne & Wear are getting a whole new fleet of trains for their urban rail networks.

However, much (but not all) of this investment is incremental, or replacing rolling stock on its last legs. It stops short of the wider vision for the rail cities that we need.


What would that look like in practice? There comes a point when the biggest cities need more cross-city routes, because running trains in and out of edge-of-centre termini can’t cope with the numbers. That explains the push for Crossrail 2 in London, but also the need for more cross-city capacity in cities like Birmingham (on the Snow Hill route) as well as in Manchester (on the Oxford Road to Manchester Piccadilly corridor, as well as a potential new underground route).

Tram-train technology can also help – allowing the lucky commuter that benefits to get on board at their local station and get off right outside their city centre office on main street in the city centre, rather than piling out at a Victorian railway terminal on the edge of that city centre.

Tram-trains aren’t the only tech fix available. Battery packs can extend the range of existing electric trains deeper into the “look ma, no wires” hinterlands, as well as allow trams to glide through city centres without the expensive clutter of overhead wires.

More mundane but equally useful work to increase capacity through signalling, station, track and junction work offers the opportunity to move to turn-up-and-go frequency networks with greater capacity and more reliability – networks that start to emulate the best of what comparable German rail cities already enjoy. Interlocking networks of long distance, regional express, regional, S-bahn, U-bahn, trams and buses, all under common ticketing.

But in talking about Germany and common ticketing I am now getting back to where I started around the debate on whether some fundamental change is needed on how urban rail networks are provided. Obviously there is a bigger national discussion going on about whether the current structure is just too layered, with too many costly interfaces and too fractured a chain of command. And in addition another, on whether the railway should be publicly or privately owned and operated.

But it’s been heartening to see the growing recognition that – regardless of how these debates are resolved – more devolution for urban and regional services should be part of any solution. That’s not only because fully devolved services have been out-performing comparators both operationally and in passenger satisfaction; it’s because local control rather than remote control from Whitehall will mean that the dots can be joined between rail and housing, between rail and the wider re-fashioning of city centres, and between rail and local communities (for example through repurposing stations as wider hubs for local community use, enterprises and housing). It will also allow for rail and the rest of local urban public transport networks to be part of one system, rather than be just on nodding terms as is all too often the case at present.

The crisis on Northern and Thameslink has been a miserable experience for rail users, affected cities and the rail industry. If any good has come out of it, it is that it shows how important rail is to cities, and opens up a space for some bigger thinking about what kind of rail cities we will need for the future – and how best we can make that happen.

Jonathan Bray is the Director of the Urban Transport Group which represents the transport authorities for the largest city regions. You can read the group’s full report here.