Monday, December 17, 2007

The Paris Metro

The Paris Metro is fantastic. This seems like an appropriate venue for discussing the similarities and differences between the Paris Metro and the Chicago Transit Authority considering the looming CTA meltdown crisis.

The Paris Metro is enormous. The Métro opened on 19 July 1900, its first line being from Porte de Vincennes to Porte Maillot (not surprising it is now the line number 1). Fulgence Bienvenüe was the engineer in charge of construction, the architect Hector Guimard being responsible for the Art Nouveau entrances (see image). The system has 199 km (124 miles) of track and 15 lines. There are 368 stations (not including RER stations), 87 of these being interchanges between lines. Every building is within 500 metres of a métro station. There are 3500 cars which transport roughly 6 million people per day. There are 15000 employees of the métro (1989 statistics).

The national government as well as the city and state heavily subsidize the operation of the system. A ride costs about $1.50 when we bought a book of 10 tickets. It is efficient, clean and the mode of transport of choice for most Parisians. There is not evidence of class on the Metro. Families, students, elderly couples, deadbeats, vagabonds and bon vivants all appear to ride the Metro. Traffic is nightmarish and using the Metro is an extremely fast way to get around town.

Some observations:

  • It is quiet. Many of the trains run on rubber tires. The older lines have older train cars. The newer lines have the newest cars and trains. They do not worry about making sure that the train cars are compatible with all the other train lines. The same trains run on the same lines all the time.
  • During the day, the time between trains is always 2 minutes.
  • Late at night - say at 11:30 pm - the time between trains is only 5 minutes.
  • The Paris Metro can occasionally smell like pee. I guess it's universal.
  • There are TWO pink lines - dark pink and light.
  • Railway workers will go on strike for a variety of reasons such as extending the length of the work week or messing with retirement benefits.
  • The Railway workers were on strike the day before we arrived, and had been on strike for two weeks in November.
If the CTA ran the trains as efficiently as in the Paris Metro, all their problems could be solved. In its current state, I will not ride the train into the Loop - even blowing $25 on parking rather than risk the nightmare that a ride on the Red Line can turn into.