Seen from Paris, blog about Paris

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The Metro: So easy to get around, yet so hard to get a ticket…

In the past years, the automation of the ticket buying process has turned out to be a major ordeal to foreign users, while the century old metro system remains the best way to move around the City of Lights.

Gare du Nord, any day… A biblical line stems from some faraway tunnel to the little ticket selling counter of the RATP, the Paris metro authority. Moaning strangers, running kids, annoying beggars and packs of bags are waiting for the couple of clerks in charge of selling the metro tickets to do their jobs. And they are doing it, as efficiently as they possibly can. Except demand far exceeds supply. And dozens of travelers from London, Amsterdam or Brussels are losing their time in what appears to be a dantesque scene of hell. Why? Because buying metro tickets has turned out to being a hassle for foreigners.

Although Paris receives about 28 millions tourists every years, it seems that the RATP has decided to overlook visitors as being part of their clients. Especially foreign visitors. If you look around, away from the line and the ticket selling booth, you’ll see a few ticket vending machines. It should be a solution; in fact it is the official solution for tickets sales for the RATP, as the mere existence of human sellers have already been cut in most metro station. Yet, for the RATP, every traveler is supposed to have a valid French credit card, with a valid pin. Which is not the case of most visitors, and of course there is only one or two machines that will accept cash, when they are not out of order. Which is why all visitors wait in line to be served.

This same problem will arise in any metro station, although sometimes, almost by miracle, a foreign credit card will work in the machine (so always try yours before jumping in the long line). The cancellation of human sellers has grown to be a huge problem to everybody, as most stations now offer a perfectly useless “information” counter, where a bored to death clerk can probably answer philosophical questions on God’s existence or on the extinction of the Velociraptor, but cannot sell you a set of 10 metro tickets. Any Parisian would think: Man, they’d better go on strike now, before the RATP cuts their job. But it is probably already too late since there is no difference between them working or not, and no one can count on them for solving their ticket problems anyway.

If you come to places where a lot of travelers will be (airports, train stations, major touristy areas), you should try to have your tickets before, and you would earn an extra couple of hour for yourself during your trip. And remember that humans still sell tickets in cafés where you have a big metro ticket sign above the entrance, as well as in most press kiosks. Because underground, only machines and other fellow visitors will hear you scream of despair…