Last stop: Paris waves goodbye to cardboard Metro tickets

The Paris Metro is phasing out cardboard tickets after 120 years, taking the capital's urban transit into a contactless future but leaving behind nostalgic fans who will miss the humble rectangular cards.

Last stop: Paris waves goodbye to cardboard Metro tickets
An illustration picture taken on September 26, 2022 in Paris shows Parisian metro tickets from the years 1973 to 1992 collected by French collector Gregoire Thonnat. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

Beyond their intended use as a transport token, the tickets with their trademark magnetic strip have inspired artists, filmmakers and singers, served as emergency notepads and, most of all, bookmarks.

“As the metro ticket disappears, so does a part of our lives,” said Gregoire Thonnat, a collector and author of a book on the history of the metro ticket. “The metro ticket is part of how we picture Paris.”

From October 13th,  Ile-de-France Mobilites, which operates the metro’s ticketing system, will stop selling the pack of 10 cardboard tickets – known as a carnet – at around 180 Paris stations, and then progressively stop selling them across the network. 

However, tourists should note that the total elimination of the cardboard tickets is not on the agenda – it will still be possible to buy single cardboard tickets at metro stations, although the single cardboard tickets will be €1.90, up from €1.49 for a smartcard ticket. 

Anyone travelling outside of Paris itself – including to Charles de Gaulle or Orly airport – needs to buy a ticket that will cover the outer ones of the city, or a special single airport ticket.

Ile-de-France Mobilites had wanted the carnets to be gone by the first quarter of this year.

But then the Covid-19 pandemic erupted, and Russia’s war in Ukraine, and with it a global shortage of microchips needed to make the smartcards to replace the tickets — whose sales still total 550 million per year, more than 50 tonnes of paper.

“We were in a hurry, but the chip crisis slowed us down,” Laurent Probst, director-general at Ile-de-France Mobilites told AFP.

The operator has started cutting the number of metro stations that still sell carnets to nudge clients towards plastic cards, and many turnstiles can no longer read cardboard tickets.

‘Change their habits’

As a result, the share of card tickets used on urban trips has dropped from more than two-thirds a year ago to well under half now. “Our customers are beginning to change their habits,” Probst said.

He said carnets would be gone completely sometime next year.

Ile-de-France Mobilites is pushing ahead with more modernisation, including the use of smartphones at turnstiles, with Android phones to be enabled within weeks and Apple phones in 2023.

“I’m enthusiastic about this development,” Probst said. “This is a sea change in the quality of our customer service.”

Paris’s leap into the future comes 20 years after the New York subway abolished metal tokens, and more than a decade after London’s Underground went mostly paperless, but some are pleased that Paris has taken things slowly.

“I enjoy the texture of it, I enjoy the cleanness of the ticket itself when it’s new, and how much you can destroy it and still have it,” said Sarah Sturman, an Italian-American artist in Paris who uses metro tickets in her collage work.

“I’m going to keep collecting metro tickets until they’re gone, and when they’re gone they’ll be even more precious,” she told AFP.

“If I see a metro ticket in a scrapbook 10 years from now, it will all come rushing back: Memories of being on the metro late at night, or in the rush hour, my favourite metro line, or why I hate another one, losing the tickets, trying to sort through my bag at the turnstile, doing laundry and finding your crumpled metro ticket in a pocket afterwards,” she said.

‘Ideal thickness’

Cannabis smokers will also miss the 30-by-66-millimetre ticket, which can be used to make filter tips, or “roaches”, for joints.

“Ideal thickness, perfect width, readily available — the three gold standards of a good crutch,” said Jake, a Japanese-American student in Paris.

The metro ticket also has its place in popular culture, famously in singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg’s 1959 hit “Le Poinconneur des Lilas” (The ticket puncher at the Lilas station); as a keepsake for Yves Montand in the 1953 film “Wages of Fear”; and on the cover of Raymond Queneau’s novel “Zazie in the Metro” that director Louis Malle made into a film in 1960.

“The useful life of a metro ticket is one hour, or one and a half hours, and yet we get attached to it,” Thonnat said. “It’s quite irrational.”

“Metro ticket” is also the name of a pubic hair trimming style that leaves just a ticket-size strip after waxing. The cut, known in the United States as a “landing strip,” is the most popular among Parisian women, according to a 2020 study published by the Version Femina magazine.

‘Something to show our kids’

Some tourists visiting Paris can’t wait for the day when they won’t have to decipher complicated metro ticket machines. 

“I don’t like paper tickets, I want everything on my phone,” said Javier Romani, a visitor from the Catalonia region in Spain.

“I’m against the paper tickets,” said Jeff Noel, from Indianapolis in the US state of Indiana. “If you could do this electronically in your hotel room it would be a lot easier than trying to find a machine.”

Stefania Grigoriadou, from Thessaloniki, Greece, said she preferred online booking but would hold on to the ticket she bought to get to the Disneyland Paris theme park.

“It’s nice to have it as a souvenir. Maybe we won’t come to Paris again, and so we have something to show to our kids in the future,” she told AFP.

Member comments

  1. I’ve been using a Navigo Découverte for the last few years, which is also handy for the Vélib’ bikes – but I have a few spare t+ tickets for emergencies or if I arrive midweek when it doesn’t make sense to load my Navigo.

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Paris public transport ticket prices set to rise in 2023

Public transport users in the Paris region may be facing higher prices for tickets and travel passes in the new year, as the region's transport network attempts to meet €950 million in additional costs for 2023.

Paris public transport ticket prices set to rise in 2023

Grappling with rising costs, local authorities for the Paris region are considering raising the price of tickets and the monthly Navigo pass for the capital’s public transport system.

These new fares would come into effect on January 1st, 2023 – although local authorities still have to approve the price rises, which will be put to the vote on December 7th, and the government may yet step in to shield commuters from the sharpest increases. 

According to information leaked to French media, the cost of a single ticket – currently set at €1.90 – could go up by 21 percent – reaching €2.30 in the new year. Paris runs an integrated public transport system which means that tickets can be used on the Metro, tram, bus or RER train services. 

Fans of the 10-ticket carnet could see prices go up to €20.30, a rise from €16.90 for paper ticket purchasers and from €14.90 for mobile phone app and Navigo easy users.

As for the Navigo pass – the monthly rail card – which will be the focus of daily transport users in the Ile-de-France, the region’s President Valérie Pécresse warned that it could jump from the current €75.20 per month to €90. 

Other travel passes are also predicted to see a rise – the weekly Navigo semaine from €22.80 to €31, and the Navigo annual from €827.20 to €990.

READ MORE: Food, fuel and transport: Which prices will rise in France in 2023?

The transport system is considering price rises because it faces €950 million in additional costs for 2023, as a result of energy rates rising and the fact that the transport system will begin owing payments to the French government on their “Covid loans” in the year 2023. 

While the increase in single ride fares to €2.30 could bring in an additional €500 million, the region’s transport operators would still be short by €450 million.

Possible outcomes

In order to avoid sharp increases to fares for passengers, there are three possible solutions that have been put forward by President of the Region, Valérie Pecresse. 

The first option would be a sort of fare shield. This would keep the price of a Navigo pass at €75.20 by relying on the State for various aids, such as transforming the region’s “Covid loans” of €2 billion into a subsidy, spreading out repayments between 2023 and 2036, and lowering the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 10 percent to 5.5 percent, which would bring in €150 million per year. So far these proposals have not been met with support.

The second possible solution would be a uniform increase of 7.5 percent from all contributing parties to the transport system, Île de France Mobilités (IDFM).

Currently, the IDFM is financed in 12 percent by the region, 38 percent by passengers, and 50 percent by contributions from private companies. If a 7.5 percent increase was applied across the board, the impact on passengers would be an increase in the Navigo pass to €80.80 euros per month.

And the third possibility, one that has been championed by Pécresse, would be to increase the contribution of companies in Paris and the inner suburbs to the ‘Mobility’ fund. However, this would have to be done by an amendment to the French government’s Finance Bill, and as of late November, parliament stood opposed to tax increases on these companies.

Without any of these solutions taking place, Pécresse has warned that users would have to withstand a 20 percent price increase, meaning a monthly Navigo pass costing between €90 to €100.

Pécresse has called this possibility “socially unbearable” and “anti-environmental.”

The Minister of Transport, Clément Beaune, told RMC on Monday that the ministry will to “everything to avoid an increase to the Navigo pass,” adding that discussions were still underway.

Meanwhile, the government spokesman, Olivier Véran, told France Inter that the government plans to “identify ways and means to avoid an increase as significant as that which has been cited” in discussions with the region.