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Paris lays claim to one of the best rapid transit rail systems in the world. The company which developed the network was called Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Metropolitain de Paris, which has been affectionately referred to for over 100 years as, Le Metro.

Today it is operated by the Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP). Anyone who lives in an automobile-dependent community can appreciate the conception, the planning, the building and continued expansion of a railway system, which assures that every building in Paris is no more than 500 meters from a metro station, which is then connected to the suburbs by the development of the Reseau Express Regional (RER).


The man in charge of constructing the first railway line in Paris, to coincide with the Exposition Universelle of 1900, was French civil engineer, Fulgence Bienvenue (1852-1936).

While work on the London Underground was getting underway in 1860, Parisians were not able to agree upon the method of implementation for their city. When a proposed above-ground, elevated system was revealed, protest over the obstruction of views, led to the formation of Le Societe des Amis des Monuments Parisiens. Victor Hugo was its first president. New York had its elevated train system running in 1871, and finally, in 1896, Paris awarded the project’s contract to Monsieur Bienvenue. The first trains did actually commence service during the World’s Fair, as planned, although the challenges of construction delayed the expected inauguration of service.

Line #1 was dug by hand, covered later, and followed the road, in order to avoid running through cellars, which were commonly used throughout the city. Underground stations were decorated with varnished tiles and the acclaimed architect now synonymous with the Art Nouveau style, Hector Guimard, was hired to design the station entrances. Guimard used glass and iron woven into fluid, elegant patterns, which made going underground, an act of stepping through a work of art. Two beautiful entrances of his are intact, the Abbesses station on Line 12 and Port Dauphine on Line 2.


1. Metro maps are easy to read. Each line is color coded, identified by a number, and named according to the last stop on each end of the line. Knowing the terminus name will help assure that you are indeed taking the train in the correct direction. Metro maps are available in metro stations, on the backs of most good city street maps, at newsstands, and of course, on the internet. Go to www.ratp.com and get interactive. Here you can plan your route by entering your start point and destination and receive current information on traveling by metro.

2. Once inside the metro station, ready to buy a ticket, there are several options. A single ticket costs 1.60 euros. A more economical choice, if you are planning on riding at least a few times, is the purchase of a “carnet” or book of ten tickets for 11.40 euros. Many Parisians rely upon the Carte Orange, which offers a choice of weekly (hebdoadaire) or monthly (mensuel) passes. You will need an extra passport photo to purchase this pass. Special passes called Paris Visites are also offered to foreign visitors online at the www.parismetro.com website, and they can be mailed to your home, before your trip. At this website the Paris Museum Pass can also be purchased, which allows entry to over 60 museums and monuments in and around Paris. There are 2, 4, and 6-day passes. Also available is a one day unlimited pass called the Mobilis, which can be purchased in the metro station. The cost depends on whether you stay within the city limits or you plan to go farther afield, and is calculated according to which zones you require for travel.

3. To gain access to the platform, you must use the automated gate. Insert your ticket into the first slot of the machine(watch the person ahead of you, if you are unsure) and be certain to remove it from the second slot after it has been scanned. Then the doors will automatically open and you may step through. It is absolutely essential that you hold on to your ticket until you leave the metro at your destination, for the metro police can ask to see it at any time, and are trying to prevent illegal access. You will be fined for not having your ticket!

4. Once on the train, be aware that doors do not open automatically. In older cars, one must lift the latch once the train has come to a stop. Newer cars have buttons to push. If you stand there waiting for the doors to open, you will either be chastised by an impatient commuter, or miss your stop!

5. Pay close attention to your belongings to avoid having your purse snatched or pocket picked, especially during peak travel times when the stations are crowded.

6. And finally, “Sortie” means, exit. Bon voyage.

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