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

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.

No entry: Why is the Paris Metro still out of bounds for disabled people?
Photo: Guillaume Flament/Flickr
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. 

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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