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Officials assert 'creaking' Paris metro is fit for Olympic test

Updated: 2024-04-15 09:53
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An aerial view of the Eiffel Tower Stadium, which is being built for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. REUTERS

PARIS — Once the envy of other cities, Paris' creaking underground metro system has become a subject of daily frustration for users, just as the French capital gears up to host this year's Olympics.

"It's really difficult and we're not even at the Olympics yet, when there'll be millions of people on it," Juliette Fayaud, a 26-year-old restaurant worker, told AFP at a station along the metro's Line 8.

"There aren't enough trains. Sometimes, during rush hour, there's a train every five minutes when you need them every two or three," she said.

User satisfaction has plunged since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, when the RATP, which runs the capital's transport system, cut services as commuters stayed home en masse.

Many metro employees were furloughed and never returned to their jobs, while the training of new staff to replace them slowed significantly.

"I think it'll be horrible during the Olympics," 22-year-old saleswoman Gabrielle Camus, another daily user, told AFP, as she waited for a train. "I'm planning to use a bike and avoid the metro as much as possible."

On some lines, around one in five trains ran late last year, according to public data, with passengers sometimes facing waits of up to 10 or 15 minutes during the day on the worst-performing lines.

Commuters on the larger overground trains, which run on so-called RER lines, were offered refunds in 2023 for the third consecutive year due to punctuality problems. The service is still not back to pre-Covid levels.

With around seven million visitors expected in Paris during the Olympics, which runs from July 26 to Aug 11, as one of the main forms of transport for both tourists and locals, the commuter train system will be under severe scrutiny.


Major political pressure ahead of the Games — and the appointment of former prime minister Jean Castex as head of the RATP in 2022 — has led to gradual improvements in recent months, according to surveys by the capital's transport authority.

Castex warned in December that eight out of ten lines were "no longer in a state to provide a quality public service", which he blamed on "40 years of under-investment".

But, thanks in part to a major staff recruitment drive, all lines — with the exception of the 3, the 8 and the RER C — reached the minimum performance standard of 90 percent punctuality in March, according to the latest data.

Workers are also racing to complete key line extensions ahead of the Olympics, notably to connect the southern Orly airport to the metro's line 14, and a new transport node near the Stade de France, which will host athletics, in the north.

"It's a challenge that we are able to meet," the head of the greater Paris region, Valerie Pecresse, told reporters as she presented her transport plans for the Olympics in late March.

Some metro or RER lines, particularly those serving the soccer, tennis or athletics stadiums, will have up to 71 percent more trains than a usual summer's day.

The challenge is not so much the volume of travelers — overall traffic is expected to be no higher than a normal working day — but it is the peaks in demand as fans enter and leave stadiums.

"You shouldn't be scared to do a bit of walking," Pecresse told Parisians. "It's good for your health."

'Key issue'

In a city that has been gradually squeezing out cars, Paris is also keen to show off its recent cycling revolution.

Each Olympic sports venue will be accessible by bike, with around 415 kilometers of new cycle lanes built ahead of the Games, as well as 20,000 bicycle parking spots.

There will be no parking provision for cars at sports venues, however, and traffic jams in the capital are expected to be worse than usual due to road closures.

Chief organizer Tony Estanguet last week sounded confident that the city's trains, buses, trams and cycle lanes could handle the strain.

"It's a key issue for the smooth organization and success of our event. We're well aware of that," he told reporters.

Paris's two main airports — Charles de Gaulle and Orly — are also gearing up to play key roles and have installed 15 new baggage inspection lines between them.

"The infrastructure is ready," the director general of the airports' operating company said recently.

Traffic is expected to be similar to summer averages of 300,000 arrivals per day, but with a major spike in demand in the days after the closing ceremony on Aug 11.


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