No entry: Why is the Paris Metro still out of bounds for disabled people?

Evie Burrows-Taylor
Evie Burrows-Taylor - [email protected]
No entry: Why is the Paris Metro still out of bounds for disabled people?
Photo: Guillaume Flament/Flickr

The Metro might be a convenient way for many to get around Paris but for disabled people including those who need wheelchairs, the French capital's underground system is nothing short of a nightmare. Here's why.


For most people the number of steps you are expected to climb on any one journey on the Paris Metro can be daunting.
But for the 1.3 million people with disabilities living in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France, which translates to 12 percent of the population, there are more pressing issues when it comes to getting around on the city's underground network. 
For those who need wheelchairs to get around, as well as a wide variety of people who struggle with mobility using the Paris Metro is not an option. 
Indeed, when compared to the underground transport networks in other major cities, the Metro is revealed as one of the worst for accessibility.  
Just three percent -- or nine stops out of 303 -- on the entire Metro system are fully accessible to people who are disabled. 
For those people, the Paris Metro map looks like this:
Map: Le Monde
The extent of the Metro includes the nine stops -- Saint-Lazare, Madeleine, Pyramides, Chatelet, Gare de Lyon, Bercy, Cour Saint-Emilion, Bibliotheque Francois Mitterrand and Olympiades -- that make up line 14, which was built in 1998.
Meanwhile, a whopping 80 percent of the Barcelona Metro is accessible to disabled passengers along with 25 percent of the New York subway.
And in London, where the system is even older than in Paris, 20 percent of stops are accessible and by 2020, this figure is expected to exceed 40 percent. 
Stuck in the past
Despite the current state of affairs, the Paris Metro should be easier to upgrade, for example by adding lifts, than other underground systems.
That's because compared to other cities Metro stations aren't that far below ground. On average, they are just six metres underground compared to London, where they are 25 metres underground. 
Rights groups argue that the reason it's lagging behind other cities is simply because it isn't a priority for the authorities.
And developers seem to agree. 
Photo: AFP
"Yes, technically it is complicated but we do far more complicated things. Everything is achievable," Bruno Sarret, who is in charge of infrastructure and station development at Systra, a public transport consultancy firm told Le Monde.
"But it's a question of having the drive and necessary investment to do it," he added.  
Indeed, when the president of the Paris region Valérie Pécresse was campaigning for election she pledged to improve the system and ensure that the Metro was 100 percent accessible to people in wheelchairs. 
However since she was elected in December in 2015, zero funding has been dedicated to her ambitious project, according to Le Monde, adding that for years, the government has excluded the metro from their accessibility plan to focus on the bus and the RER.
Campaign for better access
In June this year, the Ile-de-France arm of France's association for paralyzed people in France (APF) put out a press release calling for the government to address the issue. 
"It is important to stress that our objective is not to make the whole of the Paris Metro accessible because the difficulties involved in that are numerous," Claude Boulanger, leader of the APF told The Local. 
"What we're asking for first, is that the studies carried out by the RATP (Paris' transport operator) on the feasibility of making the Metro accessible which were done almost four years ago, are communicated to the community leaders who represent citizens, as well as to elected officials who can make decisions based on their findings."
Photo: Claude Boulanger 
The organisation and the people it represents say that once the findings have been revealed they will then be able to set achievable goals that will promote freedom of movement for the community. 
"Nearly 40 percent of people in Ile de France, are considered as people with reduced mobility but we forget too often in France, that it is the environment that reduces their mobility!"
Boulanger says that in order to move forward it is necessary to "change people's outlook" on the subject. 
For now, he says the organisation is still "waiting impatiently" for a response from the government. 


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