If you’re not used to taking public transportation, it may all seem a little confusing at first: so many lines, so many acronyms, so many tickets! But if you start small and then branch out, you’ll gain confidence and in no time, you’ll be switching lines and modes of transport with ease. Here are a few basics to get you started.
Public transport in Paris consists of four coordinated systems with integrated ticketing.
Métro: The Métro (short for Métropolitain) is the subway system. It is extensive with 16 lines on traditional underground/above ground trains plus 5 newer tram lines that run exclusively above ground. Once you are in the Métro system, you can change lines as many times as you need (as long as you don’t exit the system) using only one ticket. It runs from 5.20 a.m. to 1.20 a.m. daily plus one additional hour on Friday and Saturday nights as well as the eve of certain holidays.
Bus: Paris also has an extensive bus system that links well with the subway. Regular bus service is from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Over night, a less extensive set of bus lines called the Noctilien is in service.
RER: The RER was built to help suburban commuters get quickly from home to work and back again. There are 5 lines, two of these connect to Paris’s airports. RER tickets are priced according to distance (longer rides being more extensive) but you can use the RER within zones 1 and 2 just as if it were another line of the Métro. That is, if you get on the RER A at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile and ride to Chatelet, you can then switch to Métro line 1 without using a new ticket. If you have to go through a second turnstile to switch to line 1, just use the same ticket you used to get on the RER A.
SNCF/Transilien: The SNCF is the state railway company. Its Transilien trains serve commuters in areas where there is no RER. For example to reach the western suburbs of St. Cloud, Garches, Vaucresson, and Bougival, you take a SNCF train from either La Defense or Gare St. Lazare.
A single Métro ticket costs 1.70 euros. A packet of ten tickets called a carnet costs 13.30 euros. A ticket is good for one ride on the bus, one ride on the Métro with an unlimited number of transfers from line to line, and one ride on the RER within zone 1.
Children under the age of 10 may travel on a half price ticket which can be bought individually or by the carnet. Children under the age of 4 do not need a ticket.
RER and Transilien tickets are priced depending upon the distance. You can also buy these tickets in packets of 10.
Always keep your ticket with you! Do not throw it out until you completely exit the system. Although you will see people jumping over and crawling under turnstiles, don’t try to cheat the system. Ticket control teams monitor passengers randomly; there are stringent fines if you do not have a ticket and generally you are required to pay on the spot.
Special passes are also available that may be of interest to teens and to visitors. The Paris Visite Pass can be purchased for a 1, 2, 3, or 5 day period with separate prices based on whether it is for zone 1-3 or zone 1-5 (which includes airports). It is good for unlimited travel during the time period and so can be quite handy for tourists, especially in inclement weather.
Students under the age of 26 can benefit from buying a Ticket Jeunes Weekend, good for unlimited travel on one day (Saturday, Sunday or a holiday) for just 3.65 euros for zones 1-3. (Higher tarifs apply to zones 1-5 or 3-5.) If your teen will be using public transportation frequently, you may want to purchase an Imagine R card good for unlimited travel throughout the school year. Imagine R cards vary in price by the zones you select but are good for free travel throughout the system on weekends and holidays.
Tickets can be purchased from a booth in subway and RER stations, from station kiosks, and tabacs. You can also buy single use tickets from bus drivers for 1.90 euros; you may not transfer to another bus with one of these tickets.
If you use public transportation frequently, you may want to consider the convenience of a Navigo pass. To learn more, see To Navigo or Not.
One ticket can be used for unlimited transfers within the Métro system, Métro-RER within zones 1 and 2, and bus to bus within zones 1 and 2. You can not use the same ticket to transfer from Métro or RER to bus or bus to Métro or RER.
For fare purposes, the Paris region is divided into five zones. Virtually every Métro station lies within zones 1 and 2 so you should never have to purchase a special ticket if you are just using the subway. But if you take the Métro from Paris to a suburban community in zone 3 and then want to take a bus, you would then need to use a separate ticket for the bus. For more information, consult the zone map. One odd little quirk to keep in mind: the Métro station at La Defense is in zone 2; the adjacent RER A station (also La Defense!) is in zone 3. (Don’t ask why. It just is.)
Carnet: packet of ten tickets
More information, go to the RATP Web site. Many portions are in English.