Buses sometimes seem to me to be the poor stepchild of the public transport system in Paris. It’s not that they’re inefficient, dirty, or slow. It’s just that they’re a lot harder to figure out than the subway, particularly for folks still trying to get their bearings. But the bus has a lot to recommend: better views, fewer smells, and often a quicker route from your front door to where you’re going. All it takes is a little patience to figure out the lines which work with your daily and weekly routines.
You use the same ticket for the bus as you do for the metro. In fact, you can actually buy one from the driver for 1.80 euros but beware: you cannot use a ticket bought on board to transfer to another bus. Tickets bought elsewhere (metro stations and tabacs) can be used to transfer from bus to bus within a one and half hour window. Regrettably, you cannot use the same ticket to transfer from bus to subway or subway to bus.
Board the bus through the front door. Greet the driver with a simple “Bonjour monsieur” or “Bonjour madame.” If you have a Navigo pass, swipe it on the purple pad as you board. If you have a ticket, insert it into the grey box mounted just behind the driver’s seat. The machine will validate your ticket, give a cheery “ding”, show a green light, and spit the ticket back out. Hang onto your ticket for the duration of your trip. If your ticket has somehow gotten demagnetized or you mistakenly try to validate a used ticket, the machine will make a loud buzz and show a red light. If you don’t know what the problem is, you can try to appeal to the driver. In most cases, they will just wave you to move on back.
All buses follow a prescribed route with well marked stops. The route is usually posted at the bus stop as well as on board the bus in panels that run in the space above the windows. The bus only makes these stops, however, if someone is waiting to board or if you signal, by pushing any of the red buttons mounted on poles throughout the bus, that you would like to get off at the next stop. Exit through the rear door.
If you are pushing a stroller, you can enter through the rear door, although you may have to ask the driver to open it if no one is getting off. Park your stroller in the space directly opposite the rear door and go to the front of the bus to validate your ticket or swipe your Navigo. The rules say that only two strollers can be on a bus but this rule is not always enforced.
Tips for Bus Riders
Due to the large number of one-way streets in Paris, the bus route to your destination may be slightly different than your return. The loops that the bus must take to respect one-way traffic are noted on the route map as well as which stops are served in each direction.
Many bus stops (particularly those with shelters but also many just marked by a pole) have real-time information noting the length of the wait for the next bus. If you are at a stop served by many buses, check the electronic display carefully. It usually displays waiting times in a rolling fashion with one bus listed after another. If the service is out of order, the sign will read “info pas disponible, “ or “hors service.”
Priority seats for the elderly and disabled are clearly marked. A large number of older, somewhat infirm, ladies and gentlemen take the bus; be a good sport and give them your seat if none is available.
Regular bus service is between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Buses run after these hours but on a limited number of routes or with long waits between buses. Consult the RATP site for an itinerary if you are traveling outside these times.
Bus maps for specific lines can be found on the RATP site. From the home page, click on the green circle marked “plan des lignes” and then on the following page, scroll down and click on “bus.” You can also purchase bus guides at bookstores and news kiosks. They are usually with the street map books.