Tourists visiting Paris might stroll down the Champs-Élysées, sample a flaky croissant or catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa, but they’ll spend little time worrying about the transport network. For David Pena and other residents of the sprawling metropolis, it is a different story.
Mobility is a daily concern for Pena, who lives in a small riverside town about 30 kilometres west of Paris. With limited transport options, he usually drives his car to the city. “The roads and other infrastructure are quite good, but people often complain about the trains,” says Pena, 42, a helicopter engineer who is married with four children. “It’s not uncommon for me to go to the station and experience delays or see that the train has been cancelled.”
“Transportation can be a big problem for some travellers,” says Laurence Debrincat, a Paris mobility specialist with Ile-de-France Mobilités, which runs the region’s transport network. “The difficulty is that we are coping with problems from more than a century ago and finding solutions today.”
A stop on Metro line 14 in central Paris. The city plans to double the size of its Metro system.
Racing to keep up with demand
The Paris Métro often ranks among the top subways in the world. A recent global survey ranked the city in the top 10 for urban mobility. The region, however, has two main challenges – much of the transport network was built more than 100 years ago and it is difficult to maintain the system while keeping up with rising demand.
The dense mesh of trains, trams and buses in Paris operates within a complex system of labyrinthine arteries and wide boulevards based on a renewal plan led by Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the late 19th century.
“Paris has a very old system, similar to London,” says Caroline Lemoine, a transport engineer at the European Investment Bank. “Upgrading the network and keeping up the expansion to improve the level of service and increase accessibility requires a huge investment, and that is what we, at the EIB, are contributing to.”
The region in and around the city, known as the Ile de France, has a population of about 12 million, a number that has tripled over the last century. More than eight million trips are made daily on the Paris region’s transport network. The surge in population has contributed to skyrocketing property prices, forcing many residents to relocate 30-40 kilometres outside of the city and live in areas with fewer transport connections. A large part of the population can’t take advantage of bicycle sharing, car sharing, driverless trains or electric buses. They also can’t travel between suburbs easily because most train lines go straight into Paris. Missing a suburban train can mean waiting a half hour or more for the next ride to work.
In Paris and the nearby suburbs, there are 16 Métro lines covering 214 kilometres, and nearly 350 bus lines. Paris also has a regional express network, or RER, with five lines and 587 kilometres of rails connecting the city to the distant suburbs. Trams are returning, with nine lines running, after many were ripped up in the middle of the last century. Maintaining this whole system requires years of planning and billions of euros.
Planning for the future
“Investment is crucial for us, as in the majority of global metropolises,” says Nicolas Blain, head of the international relations and European affairs unit at the RATP, which operates the Paris Métro, trams and buses. “We have to prepare for the future while making sure the quality of the public transport network is in line with the increase in passenger traffic. We have no other option.”
“We have to prepare for the future. We have no other option.”
A lot of work left to be finished
The EU bank has been helping France invest in transport for decades. Big recent deals include:
- EUR 800 million in loans from the EIB to bring back tram lines in Paris
- EUR 200 million to support the Autolib’ electric cars in Paris
- a total EUR 2.5 billion to finance part of the ambitious project known as the Grand Paris Express, a Métro expansion plan that is one of the biggest in the world.
Many of the most innovative projects in Paris transport began only in the past one or two decades. Rail lines and trains, for example, have not received adequate investment for many years, officials say.
“At the end of the 20th century there was a lack of rail maintenance,” Debrincat says. “That has changed, but now we are coping with years of problems in a short amount of time.” She explained that renovation and the funding used to be handled mostly by the state, so this caused big delays when there were political conflicts or budget concerns, but now much of this work is done locally and regionally, so decisions come faster.
“We are coping with years of problems in a short amount of time.”
The Grand Paris Express is one program that is being handled mostly locally. The enormous plan will double the size of the Métro, adding 200 kilometres of tracks and more than 70 stations. The project aims to:
- stitch together isolated suburbs
- reduce daily traffic jams that contribute to smog
- link business districts, airports, and universities
- connect the otherwise isolated suburbs to Paris.
“The Grand Paris project is going to take a long time, but it is going to ensure we have one of the best transportation networks in the world,” Debrincat says.