How to Survive in Paris' RER and Metro

Atmospheres in this tip:

With 1.5 billion users per year, the Metro is central to Parisian life. But the experience isn't always stress-free, so we've put together some tips for how to survive Paris' busy public transport system!

    • Tickets or Navigo pass?

The Navigo pass is a card that allows you to enter the Metro, RER and bus systems by simply tapping it at the turnstile or onboard, meaning no paper tickets and no constant queuing at the machine. Once your card is charged for the week or month, you can take the Metro, RER, bus or tram as many times as you’d like within a certain area. Depending on what option you pick, the Navigo will cover only a certain number of the five zones in the Paris region. For two zones, a weekly pass costs 30.40€ and a monthly pass is 67.10€.
If you are not going to use public transport often, you might not need a Navigo pass, in which case tickets are the way to go. Whether you buy them from a machine or from an RATP agent, make sure to ask for the proper route and get them in “carnets”, sets of ten tickets sold at a reduced rate. Never buy from people hanging around stations, as these can be more expensive and sometimes fake, risking you a fine.

    • When to sit and when to stand

During peak hours, the folding seats near the doors should not be used. If you do decide to sit down on one when everyone else is squeezed up against one another, be prepared to be the victim of multiple evil stares and negative (but often justified) comments... The only people who can get away with this behaviour are pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled.

Offering your seat to an older person or a disabled person is always appreciated.
When standing, make sure to hold onto something, although if the train is packed, people tend to be lenient if they see that you have no alternative than to lean on them in order to keep your balance. Certain lines, like the number 4, have particularly sudden braking systems that catch many unawares!

    • Pushing your way through

Locals know the drill. You’ll find that saying “pardon!” and elbowing a bit will get you on and off almost any train. Sometimes, though, if it is too crowded and you’re not in a rush, it might just be wiser to wait for a less crowded train or head to a different wagon, as stories of people fainting are common in the Metro, particularly during the summer. When a train arrives, wait until people have exited before getting on.

    • Do not misplace your generosity

Although it is heart-wrenching sometimes, it is strongly advised not to give any money to beggars, and especially not to children. It sounds cold-hearted but, most of the time (if not all), these child beggars are part of criminal organisations that thrive on organised begging (and pickpocketing). The same thing goes for the eastern European children that pretend to be deaf and make you sign a piece of paper - as if you were donating your money to a charity. If you'd like to be part of a charity, you should check online instead: real organisations have a website where they explain how your money will be used and how to send it. Asking for money or aid is illegal in the trains, but some performers have a permit to perform in the stations themselves, so save your coins for them: you might be surprised at the quality of music these official buskers have to offer.

    • Know where you’re going

Changing train lines once is acceptable. Changing twice is sometimes necessary but rare. Three times is excessive and almost never required. Know where you need to transfer, to what train and in what direction (or terminus). If possible, you should also check which exit you need to take once you need to leave the Metro, as stations tend to have several – the dreaded Chatelet-Les Halles has 16 in total!

    • Some lines are more liked than the others…

…or more precisely, some lines are more hated than the others. Lines 13 and 4, both north-south lines, are among the most despised. The 14 is a favourite because of its speed, and the 8 is often preferred to the more-crowded 9, since they generally go to the same areas. Line 1 is a tourist hotspot, and therefore attracts the most pickpockets and beggars, although it's also one of the cleaner ones. The smaller lines, like 7bis, are old-fashioned and creaky but with a certain charm nonetheless.