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Paris: ‘Flying’ water taxis to be tested on River Seine

The seemingly madcap image of 'flying' water taxis ferrying Parisians up and the down the River Seine could soon become reality with tests on the futuristic vehicles to go ahead.

Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Photo: SeaBubbles
Parisians could soon have another mode of transport to get to work in the morning.
 
Flying water taxis, named Sea Bubbles, are to be tested on the River Seine in spring at the request of the environmentally conscious Town Hall, which is always looking to be innovative.
 
The Sea Bubble is the creation of French yachtsman Alain Thébault, who said his dream was always to make sailboats fly.
 
In fact, it's something the Frenchman has been working on for the last 25 years, he writes on his website, starting with building wooden models and more recently breaking sailing speed records.
 
 
The “SeaBubble” – “a bubble with four wings” – floats above the water, and can reach 18km/hr thanks to two small electric motors. It is powered by solar energy through panels on the vehicle.
 
“The idea actually came from my daughters after I sailed from LA to Hawaii recently,” an energetic Thébault told The Local. 
 
“They told me to invent a zero-emission cab because they were sick of seeing the pollution in Paris, London, and in the US.”
 
Not a man to waste any time, Thébault set about designing the Sea Bubble, a vehicle that would essentially float 70 centimetres above the water surface, only making contact with the water via its four “marine wings”, or foils.
 
The vehicle is designed like a Fiat 500, he says, with the same technology but different propulsion. The wings under the boat essentially lift it off the water, reducing the drag significantly. 
 
In Seine! Flying boat taxis to take to river in Paris

And the vehicle could work as a taxi service along the River Seine, where there are far fewer traffic jams than along the roads alongside. 
 
 It is designed to fit four passengers and a driver.
 
“Initially, there will be drivers, but quickly, our vehicle can become autonomous,” he added.
 
The project is already backed by several investors, and 100 people have already registered interest in owning their own bubble. 
 
Apart from attracting the attention of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo the Frenchman says he has fielded calls from companies including carmaker Renault and the Uber ride-sharing app. 
 
Now, Thébault is working on some design tweaks to make the vehicle easier to use.
 
Then, anyone with a spare €30,000 can call themselves a proud owner of the Sea Bubble, if all goes to plan, and Anne Hidalgo can proudly boast that Paris was the first city in the world with the little bubble cabs.
 
But she better be quick. London has also shown an interest in the Sea Bubbles. Hidalgo would not want to lose that race.
 

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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