French Transit Strike, Part Deux: What You Need to Know
Got a trip to Paris planned, or already there and wondering how to get around in light of the latest transit strike? Our intrepid correspondent Gayle Keck has been making her way -- on foot -- around the French capital today, and filed this report:
Today was a lovely day for a stroll along the boulevards of Paris. Which is a good thing, because there wasn't a lot of choice in the matter. A transit strike has hit the country and there's very limited Metro (subway) service, few RER trains running to the suburbs and a drastically reduced intercity train schedule - with only 90 of about 700 scheduled high-speed TGV trains operating.
The strike rolled out yesterday, with 8 p.m. targeted for the Paris Metro shut-down. But some Parisians started to fret in advance. At the Laduree tea room on the Champs-Elysees, the waiters swooped around the tiny tables with their usual brusqueness -- and then as we paid our bill, in an uncharacteristic chatty spasm, our waiter asked my husband and me if we were staying in the city for a few days. An affirmative answer caused him to spill. "It's going to be horrible tomorrow! The transit strike!" he blurted. "They have posted a sign in the back, saying we should try to get to work, but some people live in the suburbs. It will be impossible!"
By 7 p.m., the hurrying crowds of pedestrians started to take on the slightly crazed look of shoppers who have put off making all their purchases until Christmas eve. We hopped into a cab at the Eiffel Tower to avoid a long hike in the rain. Bad choice. Suburbanites who'd been paranoid about getting home had driven their cars into the city. Traffic was snarled so badly that we eventually told the cabbie to drop us at the nearest Metro stop; we'd take our chances on making it back to our place before the witching hour.
There was already a longer wait between trains than the usual efficient two to four minutes. The sign said six minutes, but stayed stuck on that number for a good five minutes. "Ah, now it's just like the Metro in Washington," my husband quipped. The platform crowd got denser, until finally a train pulled up. A few people burst out of the packed cars and we wedged ourselves on board. It was the same story at every stop. "Bon courage!" descending passengers would call out to the rest of us anchois (anchovies). "Oh, la, la!" boarding passengers would exclaim.
Like Cinderella racing from the ball, we wondered if our Metro train was going to just grind to a halt in the middle of a tunnel once the clock struck 8. Fortunately we made it to our stop by 7:45. As we passed a bistro across from the apartment building where we've rented for the week, I noticed locals were packed around the tables -- no doubt relishing their cocktails and cigarettes close to home.
So today, the fabulous Paris Metro has turned into a pumpkin. Only the automated 14 line is in normal service. Just one out of five trains is running on the rest of the lines. "Ce n'est pas cool" ("It's not cool"), an angry patron waiting on a platform told a TV reporter.
I'd wanted to see an exhibit at the National Archives, but a guard told me the exhibit is closed due to the strike - not enough staff could get to work. "It's our 'American' president Sarkozy," he tells me, blaming France's American-style leader for the changes to retirement policy that have prompted the walkout.
Bus service is at 15 percent to 30 percent, depending on who's doing the counting. Traffic is royally snarled, with hundreds of kilometers of blockage, according to the news. Bicycles and scooters are everywhere. There are even quite a few rollerbladers. At shops, customers discuss whether they can manage to carry their bulky purchases by bike.
Parisians are particularly making use of the 15,000 special bicycles that the city has available to subscribers of its Velib system -- though there are reports of people using their personal bike locks to "reserve" a bike so others can't use it. If you want to play dodge 'em with the cars and scooters, the Velib bikes are free for the first half-hour (with a 1 euro daily subscription or 5 euro weekly subscription), and can be returned to any bike station throughout the city. The only problem being that people have ridden them to work and so there are none available in my outer Marais neighborhood. I can only imagine the annoying hunt for a bike station with open spots once riders got into areas dense with offices. For info on the Velib program, go here.
People are being encouraged to carpool, and there have been reports of gouging by taxis. If you're headed to the airport (and traveling light), you might consider a motorcycle taxi. The cost is more than a cab, but the advantage is being able to dodge through traffic and arrive in far less time. Get more info on providers here.
Or, you might consider renting a Segway to gad about town. You can hop on one for a mere 65 euros a day (or 75 euros on weekends). Info is here.
To stay up to date on the various transport systems, check out www.infotrafic.com for traffic and www.ratp.info for Metro and bus info.
When will the strike end? Some say on Friday. Others say it will last until at least next Tuesday, Nov. 20, when other workers are planning to strike. One good sign: in a survey, 58 percent of the respondents were against the strike, with only 34 percent in favor. So popular pressure could win out. I hope it does, before my shoe leather wears out.
By K.C. Summers |
November 14, 2007; 1:42 PM ET
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