Transport in Paris

Thalys trains with service to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany in the Gare du Nord station

Superimposed on a complex map of streets and wide boulevards that evolved much until, but changed little after, the late 19th century, Paris is the centre of a national, and with air travel, international, complex transportation system. On a national level, it is the centre of a 'star' of road and railway, and at a more local level, it is covered with a dense mesh of bus, tram and metro service networks.

Streets and thoroughfares

Paris is known for the non-linearity of its street map, as it is a city that grew 'naturally' around roadways leading to suburban and more distant destinations. Centuries of this demographic growth created a city cramped, labyrinth-like and unsanitary, until a late 19th century urban renovation, overseen by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, resulted in the wide boulevards we see there today. This remained relatively unchanged until the 1970s, and the construction of cross-city and periphery expressways.

More recently, the city began renovations to prioritise public transportation systems, and has created 'purpose' lanes dedicated to buses, taxis, and, more recently, cyclists, narrowing the passages reserved for automobiles and delivery vehicles. Although reducing traffic flow within the city itself, this traffic modification often results in traffic congestion at the capital's gateway thoroughfares.

Public transportation

Locally, Paris' most-frequented public transportation is the Métro: across 16 lines,[1] its closely spaced stations (around 500 metres between them on any given line) allow a connection between any capital quarter to any other, and a few lines extend quite far into the suburbs. This is complemented above-ground by a quite complex bus route map of 347 lines,[2] and, since 1992, the tramway has made a reappearance in eight lines around the capital periphery. Paris is also the hub of the Réseau Express Régional (RER), a higher-speed and wider-spaced-station above- and under- ground train network that connects the capital to more distant suburban regions. The Transilien, in a rail network radiating from the capital's train and RER stations, compliments this in turn with yet more suburban destinations.[3]

Paris' transportation tarification is dictated by zones, with zones 1-2 covering the capital and its immediate periphery, and zones 3, 4 and 5 covering increasingly distant destinations in the Île-de-France;[4] monthly or weekly 'Navigo' passes cover all forms of public transport within the Île-de-France (zones no longer apply to the pass since September 2015[5]) for a flat fee. Those without a monthly pass can purchase a single ticket or books of tickets; a single ticket allows a traveller to transfer between the bus and tram networks, and transfer between the metro and RER networks, but one-ticket transfer between the below-ground and above-ground networks is prohibited.


For the governance of Paris-area public transportation, the basic rule of thumb is that the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) governs all transport within and extending from the Parisian Capital, and the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, the state-owned rail company whose network covers all of France) governs all transport outside of and only penetrating the capital, but there are exceptions to this rule. Metro, Tramway, most of the Bus services and a few sections of inner-city RER are run by the RATP. The rest of the RER, as well as the Transilien, are run by the SNCF.


Paris's métro has 14 lines (not including two shorter "navette" "bis" lines and the Montmartre funicular), and 12 of these penetrate into the surrounding suburbs (as two, lines 2 and 6, form a circle within Paris). Most lines cross the city diametrically and only the above-mentioned inner-city circular lines serve as a unique lateral interconnection.

Walkway between Montparnasse train and Métro stations


The RER (Réseau Express Régional) is a network of large-calibre regional trains that run far into the suburbs of Paris, with fewer stops within the city itself. From its first line A in 1977 it has grown into a network of five lines, A, B, C, D and E: three (A, B, and D) pass through Paris' largest and most central Châtelet-Les-Halles metro station. Line C occupies the path of former railways along the Seine's Rive Gauche quays, and the most recently built line E leaves Paris' Gare Saint-Lazare train station for destinations to Paris' north-east.


Main article: Transilien

These are suburban train lines connecting Paris' main stations to the suburbs not reached by the RER. The Transilien lines are named as a play-on-words for the "transit" of "Franciliens," inhabitants of the "Île-de-France" région of which Paris is the capital. lien also mean link in French.

A Paris tram


Main article: Tramways in Paris

All of Paris' tramways had stopped running by 1957, but this mode of transport has returned recently. Beginning in 1992, two lines (the T1 and T2) were built parallel to the outer boundaries of the capital. The T3 line, opened in 2006, occupies a grassy track running alongside most of Paris' Left Bank boundary.


Paris' bus lines interconnecting all points of the capital and its closest suburban cities. There are 58 bus lines operating in Paris that have a terminus within city limits.

The capital's bus system has been given a major boost over the past decade. Beginning in early 2000, Paris' major arteries have been thinned to reserve an express lane reserved only for bus and taxi, usually designated with signs and road markings. More recently, these bus lanes have been isolated from the rest of regular circulation through low concrete barriers that form "couloirs" and prevent all other forms of Paris circulation from even temporarily entering them.

There are electric buses.[6]


Cycling is common in Paris.
Main article: Cycling in Paris

Cycling is a popular mode of transportation in Paris. The Vélib' bike hire scheme was introduced in the middle of 2007 with over 20,000 bicycles available at hire points throughout the city.

National and international rail connections

Paris's first "embarcadère" train station, the predecessor to the gare Saint-Lazare, appeared from 1837 as a home for the novelty Paris-à-Saint-Germain local line. Over the next ten years France's developing rail network would give Paris five (including the Saint-Lazare station) national railway stations and two suburban lines, and from 1848 Paris would become the designated centre of an "Étoile" (star) spider-web of rail with reaches to (and through) all of France's borders. This pattern is still very visible in France's modern railway map.

As far as national and European destinations are concerned, rail transport is beginning to outdistance air travel in both travel time and efficiency. The still-developing SNCF's TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) network, since its birth in 1981, brings France's most southerly Marseille only 3 hours from the capital. A train similar to the TGV, the Eurostar, has been connecting Paris to central London through 2h 15 of rail since 1994, and in the opposite direction, the Thalys line connects Brussels through 1h22 of rail with up to 26 departures/day, Amsterdam in 3h18 with up to 10 departures/day, Cologne in 3h14, with up to 6 departures/day .

National and international air connections

Busiest destinations from Paris
(CDG, ORY, BVA) in 2014
Domestic destinations Passengers
Midi-Pyrénées Toulouse 3,158,331
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Nice 2,865,602
Aquitaine Bordeaux 1,539,478
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Marseille 1,502,196
Pointe-à-Pitre 1,191,437
Saint-Denis (Réunion) 1,108,964
Fort-de-France 1,055,770
International destinations Passengers
Italy Italy 7,881,497
Spain Spain7,193,481
United States United States 6,495,677
Germany Germany 4,685,313
United Kingdom United Kingdom 4,177,519
Morocco Morocco 3,148,479
Portugal Portugal 3,018,446
Algeria Algeria 2,351,402
China China 2,141,527

Paris had its first airport in the fields of Issy-les-Moulineaux (just to the southern limits of Paris by its Seine river's Left Bank) from the first aviation trials of 1908. Aviation became a serious mode of transport during the course of World War I, which in 1915 led to the installation of a larger and more permanent runway installation near the town of Le Bourget to the north of Paris. A yet larger airport to the south of the Capital, Orly Airport, began welcoming flights from 1945, and yet another airport to the north of the City, Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, opened its gates from 1974.

Today the former airfields of Issy-les-Moulineaux have become a Heliport annex of Paris, and Le Bourget an airfield reserved for smaller aircraft. Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle takes the majority of international flights to and from Paris, and Orly is a host to mostly domestic and European airline companies.

In addition, a few low-cost carrier airlines, notably Ryanair and Wizz Air, offer flights to Beauvais–Tillé Airport and Châlons Vatry Airport, while marketing these airports as Paris airports. However, these airports are a lot farther from Paris than Orly and CDG.


Carriages and chairs with bearers, in front of the Louvre construction site, by Gabriel Pérelle (about 1665)

In the Middle Ages, Paris was densely populated, but small, with the population packed within the city walls. As late as 1610 it was possible to walk from one side of the city to the other in about thirty minutes. While the nobility and wealthy had carriages, horses or chairs carried by porters, ordinary citizens had to walk. As the city grew, a new means of transport was needed. In 1617, letters of patent were granted for the first public transport service, chairs and porters for hire The earliest chairs were uncovered, but then covered chairs were imported from London. Beginning in 1671, the chairs and porters had competition from chairs mounted on two wheels, pushed by one or several men. They were known as brouettes, roulettes or vinaigrettes. These continued to serve Parisians well in the 18th century, with rates set by the city government. [7]

Fiacres, Taxis

Fiacres on Boulevard Montmartre, by Camille Pissarro (1897)

Early in the 17th century, the first wheeled one-horse carriages with drivers for hire, called fiacres, were introduced in Paris. Several companies existed, and rates were set by the Parlement of Paris in 1666. There were thirty-three stations around Paris where they could be hired. Their numbers increase from 45 in 1804 to 900 in 1818 to 2600 in over ten thousand in 1900, about the time for the first automobile taxis were introduced. The last horse-drawn fiacre disappeared in 1922.[7]

Paris Omnibus in 1828

The first automobile taxicabs were introduced in Paris in 1898; there were eighteen in service during the 1900 Exposition, and more than four hundred by 1907, though they were still outnumbered by fiacres. Paris taxis played a memorable part in World War I, carrying French soldiers to the front in the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. There were more than ten thousand taxis in Paris in 1949.[8]

The Omnibus, Autobus

The horse-drawn omnibus, a large square coach with rows of seats inside, carrying between 12 and 18 passengers each, was introduced in Paris in 1828. They ran from seven in the morning until seven in the evening (until midnight on the Grands Boulevards). By 1840 there were twenty-three omnibus lines operated by thirteen different companies. In 1855, Emperor Napoleon III ordered all the lines consolidated into a single company, the Compagnie Generale des omnibus.

The Tramway

horse-drawn tram on Boulevard de Sebastopol (about 1906)

Beginning in 1852, the omnibus faced competition from the horse-drawn tramway, which ran on a track. The first tramway line ran from the Place de la Concorde to Passy, and, since it was modeled after the tramway system of New York, it was known as the chemin de fer Americain, or American railway. Additional lines were built between 1855 and 1857 between Rueil and Port-Marly and between Sèvres and Versailles. The first steam-driven trams were tried from 1876, but they were too costly and were not a success.[9] The first electric tramway line was opened in April 1892 between Saint-Denis and the Madeleine; but in 1900 most public transport was still horse-drawn; on the 89 omnibus lines and 34 tramway lines in 1900, there were 1,256 horse-drawn vehicles, and just 490 electric trams.[10]

Motorized Omnibus on Place du Carrousel (1910)

By 1914, the however, the situation had changed dramatically; all of the tramway cars were electric, and the network of tramway lines covered the entire city, except for the Champs-Élysées, the avenue de l'Opera, and the Grands Boulevards. Soon afterwards, however, the tramways faced growing competition from automobiles, and the trams were blamed for slowing down traffic. In 1929, the Municipal Council decided to replace the trams with motorbuses. On 15 May 1937, the last tram ran between porte de Vincennes and the Porte de Saint-Cloud. [10]

Trams made a comeback beginning in 1990s, when the city decided to encourage more clean-energy modes of transport, and opened nine new Paris-suburb tram lines.

The Predecessor to the Metro: The Petite Ceinture

Petit Ceinture passenger train (before 1914)

In 1850 the government decided to create the Chemin de fer de Ceinture, a railroad line around the city periphery, to connect the main stations that until then had to shuttle freight between them across Paris' streets. Construction began from 1851, the first sections were opened later the same year, and its Rive Droite section was operational by the end of 1852. The Nord company Paris-Auteil passenger line opened from 1854. The Chemin de fer de Ceinture rail companies were loathe to open their freight line to passenger service (that they thought would encumber freight transport), but eventually gave in to government pressure and opened five Rive Droite passenger stations that opened for service from the 14th of July 1862. With the opening of the Rive Gauche section from 1867, and the completion of a connection between the Auteuil and Rive Droite sections in 1869, passengers could travel in an uninterrupted ring, through twenty-five stations, around the capital.

The Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture (that had become 'Petite' from 1882 because of the construction of a wider ring of Grande Ceinture rail) was almost a predecessor to the Paris métro: it carried more than twenty million passengers in 1889, and forty million in the year of the 1900 Paris Exposition. After the first Paris metro line opened that year Ceinture passenger numbers dropped steadily; 24 million in 1910 and 12 million in 1920, and it ran up a large deficit each year. In 1931, the Municipal Council decided to stop passenger service. On July 31, 1934, the train service was replaced by a bus line around the city.[11]

The Métro

Metro car at Bastille station on the first line constructed (1908)

Paris was well behind other cities in having its own Metro; London (1863), New York City (1868), Berlin (1878), Budapest (1896) and Vienna (1898). The project was delayed due to political battles about where it would run; the railways, supported by the government, wanted a system that would connect the different stations with each other and with the Paris suburbs, while the City of Paris wanted a system that would operate only inside the twenty arrondissements. in 1898, with the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition approaching, the city won the battle. Work began on the first six lines, totaling 65 kilometers. The first line, between Porte de Vincennes and Porte-Maillot, which served the Exposition site at the Grand Palais. Line 2 between Porte Dauphine and Nation opened in April 1903. The between Etoile and Nation (now line number 6) was finished in 1905. The new system used crossed the Seine via two bridges, at Passy and Bercy; a third, at Austerlitz, was added. In April 1905, the first tunnel under the river was opened. By 1970 there were six tunnels under the Seine and five bridges used by the Metro lines within the city. [12]

Chronology of Parisian transportation

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Transport in Paris.


Notes and Citations

  1. " - The Metro: a Parisian institution". Retrieved 2015-12-07.
  2. " - Bus". Retrieved 2015-12-07.
  3. "Itinéraires - Transilien - SNCF". Retrieved 2015-12-07.
  4. "La carte des zones - STIF". Retrieved 2015-12-07.
  5. "Forfaits Navigo Mois et Semaine". Retrieved 2016-01-05.
  6. A new electric bus line in Paris, BE Green
  7. 1 2 Fierro 1996, pp. 757-758.
  8. Fierro 1996, pp. 1164-1165.
  9. Fierro 1996, pp. 1181-1182.
  10. 1 2 Fierro 1996, p. 1182.
  11. Fierro 1996, p. 766.
  12. Fierro 1996, pp. 993-995.
  13. "'Flying' water taxis for Paris". The Connexion. 26 October 2016.


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