The greater Paris area is served by an extensive public transportation system, which is generally efficient, economical and easy-to-use. The RATP (Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, the Paris Transportation Authority) runs the metro, tram, and bus lines, and shares responsibility for the RER (Reseau Express Resional) with the SNCF (Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer Francais). SNCF controls the Transilien Suburban trains. Most Paris maps show the public transportation routes and free maps (Plan des Lignes or Plan de Poche) of the lines are available at metro and train stations and major bus terminals. They are also displayed outside each metro station.
Smartphone applications are available that allow you to see maps of the RATP lines as well as have up-to-the minute infomation on arrival/departure times, construction delays and traffic issues.
Buses, metro and trams are generally clean and in good order. They are perfectly safe and are well staffed in the evenings and on crowded public holidays by special transit police. As in any large city, keep a close on your bags and pockets and avoid traveling in unoccupied carriages.
General RATP information is available in English by calling 08.92.68.77.14 (recorded information only) or by visiting http://www.ratp.fr. This is a very good website that has interactive maps, allows you to enter a departure and arrival destination for the fastest route, and gives alternative options in case of construction. It is accessible in six languages, including English, although the information provided there is geared toward short-stay tourists and emphasizes tourist travel passes rather than ordinary (and cheaper) French ‘Navigo’ travel passes. Even if your French is at a just-beginning level, the RATP website is easy to navigate.
Occasional strikes (grèves) or demonstrations (manifestations) can disrupt transportation. They are usually announced in the media the day before, so you can make alternative plans. When this happens, RATP activates a special phone number available on their website, which gives recorded information (in French) about the disrupted lines.
Paris Region Transportation Tickets and Passes
Ile-de-France is divided into 6 zones organized in concentric circles. The central circle (Zone 1) is composed of the city of Paris. The metro runs almost exclusively in Zones 1 and 2. The metro, trams, buses and RER all use the same tickets within Zones 1 and 2. These can be purchased at metro and RER station ticket booths and automatic machines, at some bus terminals and in tobacco shops (tabacs) displaying the RATP sign. Individual tickets can also be purchased directly from bus drivers.
An adult single-ride ticket costs 1.80 Euro. If you purchase a single ticket on a bus, it costs 2.00€ and transfers are not allowed. Children under four years old travel for free and children from four to nine travel at half price. There are several types of transportation passes:
- A ‘carnet de tickets’ is a pack of 10 metro/bus tickets for Zones 1 and 2. It is about a 27% discount off the single-ride price. As of March 2015 the cost is 14.10€.
- Mobilis passes are good for unlimited RATP travel for one day in the selected zones.
- A Paris Visite pass allows you to explore Paris over a choice of one, two, three or five consecutive days. It can be used for unlimited travel on the metro, bus and RER in a choice of zones.
- The Navigo is an electronic hard card used for weekly (currently 21.25€), monthly (currently 70.00€), or annual passes (731.50€). The pass can be scanned over a purple sensor at turnstiles and on trams and buses, which saves time and the need to fumble for paper tickets. It can also be replaced if lost, with full value for the remainder of that week or month for a small fee.
- Abonnement Intégrale is an annual subscription valid for unlimited RATP/Transilien travel in the zones you select. It can be paid for all at once, or in 11 monthly installments.
- The Imagine R is a student pass good for the entire year.
- Cartes Emeraude and Amethyste offer free or reduced prices for seniors, persons with disabilities, and veterans.
Most employers will reimburse 50% of your transportation cost if you use public transportation to commute to work. Check with your Human Resources department.
Safety and Transportation
As a general rule, Parisian buses, metros and trams are quite safe. However, it would be remiss not to note that there has been an increase in marauding groups of pickpockets. Usually young women, who embark in the same carriage with the unsuspecting tourist. The women pretend that they are searching for the correct metro stop and then hop off the metro at the last minute – occasionally with the wallet of the unsuspecting tourist. If you feel crowded in an otherwise empty carriage, be vigilant.
There has also been a surge of theft of smartphones in recent months. The RATP has even launched a campaign warnings travellers to keep their telephones out of sight and secure. You must beware of pickpockets as well as brazen theives who will grab the phone right out of your hands and run. The safest course of action is to not use your cell phone at all on public transportation. That said, everyone does and you will be tempted to as well. Be vigilant and smart. You have been warned.