24 January 2017 | 2 °C

Opinion

London Underground Vs Paris Metro

London Underground Vs Paris Metro

Continuing our series of comparisons between the London Underground and the subterranean mass transit systems of other cities worldwide (see previous bouts with Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo and New York). In early 2016, we found ourselves riding the Paris Metro, and decided it was high time we pitted the City of Light's underground network against London's.

Before we get started though, it's worth noting a couple of obvious differences between the two networks:

In Paris there are staffed ticket offices at almost every station  - we went to all 303 station in the space of five days, and even the small poky stations which hardly see any passengers had a staffed ticket office.

And yet a no point did we see any staff out on the platforms, no-one speaking into a PA system telling us to stand clear of the closing doors. And guess what: everyone seemed to manage just fine, merci.

Then again, maybe Paris SHOULD have more staff manning the platforms; numerous times we saw people entering via exit gates and not paying for a ticket — tut tut, Parisians.

One other thing: most Paris Metro stations have Durex machines in the ticket office areas. OK, this is a romantic city, but does travelling on the Metro really make you that horny? Apparently not: in the five days we were there, we didn’t see a single prophylactic dispensed.

Size

Although the Paris Metro system has six core zones (similar to London) most of the network is within zone 1. That's because even though Paris has more stations (303 to London’s 270) the geographical area is much more condensed; around the same size as the zone 3 boundary in London.

In London, the average amount of time between two stations is almost exactly two minutes. In Paris it's literally one minute — sometimes even shorter. Think Leicester Square to Covent Garden in a LOT of places. In fact Paris's stations are SO close you can often see the next one up from the platform you're standing on.  

Another interesting comparison: whereas it takes around 16 hours to travel to all stations in record time in London, in Paris — even with 33 more stations — it can be done in just 13 hours.

But for all its nifitiness, the Paris Metro doesn’t really reach out into the suburbs (where buses and trams take over). And the fact you never really get up speed is also frustrating.

London's network may be more lumbering, but it goes further, and is thus more useful.

London wins.

Standard style Metro train
Standard style Metro train

Information and navigation

We can't deny it: the Paris Metro has a great map. It's well proportioned, folds up into a nice size, and it has buses and the rail network printed on the reverse.  

There's a sensible lettering and numbering scheme too. The Crossrail-like RER services have a letter associated with them, while all the Metro lines have a number.

There are 16 lines in total on the Metro system (14 'proper' ones, and two 'short' ones — a bit like the Waterloo & City line). Yet the map doesn’t feel too busy and they’ve not run out of colours.  

Ligne 9 Carriage Map
Ligne 9 carriage map

Station signage in Paris is neat and clear too, provided you know the name of the station at the end of the line; as there are no directional signs (eg 'westbound') signs in stations and platforms as there are in London — just the name of the last stop on the line which made it harder as a tourist.

A final note: Paris trains don't overburden you with repetitive information pollution either. It was telling that the one time during our trip that there was an issue, everyone paid attention to the driver's announcement.

Paris wins.

Trains

The Paris Metro doesn't do deep tunnel tube trains: 90% of it is built at 'cut and cover' level. Rather than a proper underground system, it feels more like a tram/light rail system that's been sunk 20ft underground.

The trains feel narrower even though they’re on the same gauge track as London, but you don’t ever have to lean in and stoop like you do with a London tube train at the height of rush hour.

Most of Paris is a built 'Cut and Cover' style
Most of Paris is a built 'Cut and Cover' style

There's only one line in Paris which doesn’t have nice vibrant seat 'moquette-style' patterns — it has blue vinyl seating instead, but Paris does have 'tip-up' seats so that in rush hour, people can stand in those spaces — and in the rush hour you'll get tutted at if you remain seated on a tip-up seat.  Yes, London has these too now, but Paris paved the way, and they know how to use them.

Oh and two of Paris's lines — 1 and 14 — are fully automated, so you can sit up at the front and get a glorious view as you descend into the tunnel and feel like you’re driving the train a la DLR.

Do driverless trains lead to less strikes? Er, no. But let's not mention strikes in France.

Overall, we liked Paris Metro trains better. It's a Paris win.

Ticketing

As soon as we attempted to buy our tickets for the Metro we knew that London was waaaay ahead of the game. Although we still have paper tickets, more often we use Oyster and contactless.

Parisians, it seems, prefer the traditional methods, with many still buying single tickets or carnets (10 tickets).

There is an Oyster-like ticket called Navigo, but it's not used by everyone. It also requires you to have a photo and the options are still limited. You can only buy a Monday-Sunday weekly pass, or a pass for a WHOLE calendar month. So it's not so useful if you visit Paris for four days - say between Friday and Monday.

TfL is leaps and bounds ahead with Oyster and now contactless payments when it comes to ticketing. An easy London win.

It's hard to beat an Oyster card for getting around. Photo by Mike Lodge ARPS in the Londonist Flickr pool

Décor

So. The corridors. Oh my, the long, undulating corridors that twist and turn under the streets of Paris. Relentless long corridors decorated with nothing other than bland white tiles. Oui, the Bland White Tiles Co must have made a tidy packet when the system was first built.

OK, some of the stations have been decorated to look a bit different, and in a tiny number of places some coloured tiles have been introduced to give the system character, but London has its Art On The Underground project, while character oozes from nearly every station — even new designs, like the revamped Tottenham Court Road.

London win.

Fares/price

The prices (and this will not surprise you) are so much better in Paris. Our weekly Navigo pass that let us go anywhere on the Metro and the buses, and the trams, cost us just over 25 euros – that's £20 to travel for a whole week on the whole system. In London the cheapest zone 1 only weekly travelcard is £32. Our French friends offer much better value for money.

Paris wins hands down.

Seats on the Metro are spaced strangely apart
Seats on the Metro are spaced strangely apart

So that’s a 3-3 draw then. OR IS IT?

There is just one other thought to consider on why the Paris Metro may just be better: it doesn't have any 'flat' junctions.

While the Underground was established in the 1860s, the Paris Metro wasn't constructed until 40 years later. Maybe during those years the French had a chance to learn what London got wrong — and one of the things that the Underground is rubbish for is the fact that lines share tracks in too many places. Why? Because rail companies that started out separately eventually merged together.

We got chatting to a Parisian and they said that this was the most confusing thing about London — separate lines which arrive at the same platform, as that wasn't normal for them. If you got rid of the flat junctions in London, you'd never get stuck at Edgware Road on a Circle line train, as a Hammersmith branch cuts in front of you.

Is that a Paris win then? Sacre bleu!

Disagree? Let us know why, the comments are below — a mere scroll away.

Last Updated 05 January 2017

Paul Corfield

Last time I was in Paris I tried to buy a Mobilis day ticket at a Metro station "ticket office". The RATP man duly leapt out of the office and pointed me to an automatic machine. Seems many "ticket offices" are simply info points / mini control rooms and don't sell tickets at all. This was a central area station near Bastille so not exactly devoid of passengers. When I double checked the signage at the station it did confirm that it wasn't a ticket office.

Barden Gridge

Not sure about safety culture on Paris Metro. There was water pouring through those white tiles onto a busy platform at Place de Clichy last summer (note second puddle further back): http://www.dailymotion.com/vid...

Tomas J

The worst thing about the Metro is the Parisians. One time we went on a holliday to London and then took the train to Paris. The difference between the two cities was shocking. We had a three year old in a stroller with us. In London everyone was helpful, even in rushhour, helping us out with our bags and the stroller. In Paris everyone was pushing themselves forward, cutting in front and just stood and watched if we struggled with the stroller. When we tried to exit through the wider gate and opened it with our ticket, people rushed in so we couldn't get out before the gate closed again! One woman was friendly enough to help us get out that time, but most of Parisians were not!
I'll choose the Tube over the Metro any day!

Geoff Marshall

There's another thing that London is better at though : accessibility. In Paris, so so few stations have lifts. There are steps EVERYWHERE, so it is hopeless for step-free access. When the recent new Ligne 14 was built, obviously this is up to modern standards - driverless trains, and lifts to all platforms. But I would say over 95% of the Paris Metro is in accessible to those in wheelchairs, and anyone else requiring step free access. Don't ever complain about London until you've been to Paris!

R Goodacre

As a former Paris and now London resident, generally agree with this assessment. I believe that within central Paris (intra-muros) everyone is supposed to be no more than 500m from a metro station, and the proximity of stations wherever you are is noticeable. The rubber wheels on the main lines are not mentioned, and give a much better ride. Nor are the ubiquitous beggars (with suspiciously standard rehearsed scripts) and buskers, who add little to the journey. The walk-through trains long pre-dated London's recent S-stock (?) and the extensive RER network (Crossrail model) gives rapid access to outer Paris and across central Paris.

NT

Do any / all of the Paris trains have air con? I haven't been for about 10 years, but can remember some trains being stiflingly hot in the summer, although they did have windows that opened to let in real air at a force great enough to make a difference if you stood nearby. With almost half the Tube stock being the new sub-surface walk-through air con trains now, that would surely be another feather in London's cap if Paris is lagging behind?

I also remember pickpockets being prolific, almost as if they were on the staff payroll.

SoniaF

when I was in Paris, I found the amount of beggars and buskers on the Metro quite disconcerting - perhaps because it's easier to bunk on without paying!

SoniaF

Oh - and I broke a few nails opening the manual doors - and the number of times people opened the doors before the train stopped was a little scary when I kept leaning against them unthinkingly :D

Ale Sarco

What do you mean they're not used to different trains on the same platform? The RER does exactly that, and even worse, for some obscure reason, instead of showing the destination at the front of the train, they show strange names like LITA or PAKO (these are invented but you get the point).

TRAX

The Navigo card now enables you to travel on all the metros, trams, buses, suburban/commuter/regional trains in the entire Ile-de-France region (12 011 km2). It is also available for a whole year.

Line 4 is soon joining the automated lines-club.

The max speed for the Paris Metro trains is 70 km/h (43 mph) (80 km/h (49 mph) for the automated lines) and this speed is often reached, especially by the rubber-tyred trains.

Tom

Even though Paris wins 'hands down' on ticket prices, this is insufficient weighting. A monthly Paris zones 1-5 travelcard (covering the Ile de France region) is £55. A monthly London zones 1-4 travelcard is £178. That's almost £1,500 more per year that a commuter spends in London than in Paris. I'd be pretty happy to have that in my pocket.

snail flail

the other nice things about the paris metro is you get mobile service when you are underground on the metro and the magnificent views from line 6 as it is above street level.

Stephenmid

No mention of the RER which is metro-like and takes you further out.

Stephenmid

Changing lines on the Paris Metro (Correspondance) is a nightmare compared to the Tube. Huge long walks in lots of stations. On the tube sometimes when you know your stations, you can walk across the platform. Advantage London

Stephenmid

Most Metro are simple straight lines and easy to understand - not like the labyrinthine confusion of the Northern Line. Not easy for visitors to understand. Advantage Paris.

CanAmSteve

So many things to note... Reading through the comments, - yes Paris is not London - we're not comparing the cultures. Oyster is great (and contactless) Clear win there, and ... that's it. Otherwise, I'll take Paris - cheaper, quieter (I swear some Underground lines must break H&S noise limits) more stations and better located. The Metro isn't confused with a regional rail service (they have the excellent RER for that - which blows away London's mainline rail station transfers - Paddington to Victoria? Sure.. eventually... Euston? You like stairs and a hike?) No exit tap-out (you can wait five minutes to get out of some Tube stations). Did I mention quiet? And cheap? Paris has form-over-function infrastructure (might look great, but you often walk further than necessary) while London has grotty we-squeezed-it-in somehow cramped access and some interminable "connections". Disabled access on the Tube? In Zone 1? If there''s a lift that isn't essential, it's usually broken or coned off with "see staff" (what are they doing - rationing it?). Paris could mark the stations a bit better (I've walked right past a few despite looking) and neither have particularly good signage for tourists (TfL still doesn't like compass points - they consider them too hard for us to fathom). Paris had the "straight-through" trains long before London. And did I mention quiet - and cheap?

Oliv

Paris loses hands down at the second you have a suitcase with you... Most stations still have the idiotic tourniquets which means it's impossible to put a suitcase through.. and not all stations have side doors to let you through (oh and staff at every station is also an illusion, it's not like they will come and help... you have to rely on the kindness of strangers)... Every time i travel to Paris I rage at the idiocy of the system...

Mark

One Parisian import that I would LOVE in London is that when trains are crowded, Parisians in the tip-up seats stand up, to make more space on the train.

Chance of Londoners doing that on a rush-hour Northern Line train? NIL.

Annabel Smyth

Many of the so-called "ticket offices" on the Paris métro are unstaffed, except during peak hours, and you're expected to buy your ticket from a machine. And if you don't know that you can buy a "Mobilis" day pass, good luck with finding out!

Having said that, the system has changed enormously since I lived in Paris in the early 1970s. During those years it was modernised with the introduction of automatic ticket gates and so on, but now it reaches far further out into the suburbs than it did back then.

Both systems are easy enough to use, and have their own shibboleths, but I do find the Tube more comfortable!

Ray LePine

I have read, with great delight, all the comparisons between the London underground and the others. I have been to all the places you have mentioned and used the underground. And my opinion is that you're spot on with one exception, New York. The New York Metro is great. It's fast, cheaper and organized. However the stations and trains in London are cleaner (not nearly as many rats as New York!) The wall maps are ubiquitous and the station signs are easy to see standing or setting. Once again I'd give London wins!

theo chap

1) I don't see why the london Oyster card wins against the Pass Navigo. It was launched in Paris many years before the oyster card and contrary to what you say, it is used by millions!
Also, the oyster card comes with a little present: a £5 'rip off' deposit that I fear I will never see again in my lifetime!
2) It's a bit silly to say that the Paris metro is much smaller than the London tube. If you compare the two networks, you can't really ignore the Paris RER, which was build decades ago to extend the metro network. Like London, Paris has some suburban trains (leaving from st lazarre, gare du nord, etc.) but the RER is different. It uses the same stations as the metro so it really is part of the metro network.
3) You only compare the price of the two networks within the zone 1. It's a pity you didn't mention the other zones. In Paris, zone 1 to 5 is only £70 euros per month nowadays. Same price for all the users. You are not punished because you live far away anymore. It's an amazing idea to increase mobility!
4) You can use your mobile anywhere on the Paris network. In the stations but also between the stations. 3G everywhere. 4G on its way!

mb

I think the complimentary RER network is what ultimately gives Paris a slight transport advantage over London. Essentially it's the same principle as Crossrail, except Paris already has 5 of them...London is playing catch up in that area, shall we say!

Tube Geek

It is a shame the Oyster doesn't let you travel on all modes (Boris Bikes), but you can just get it until you want to cancel it. I would like to see 5 daily cards though, as they would be great for tourists (I know you can already get a special one, but that is for a whole week). King of tempted to attempt the Paris Metro challenge instead of/as well as the Tube Challenge, as you wouldn't have to get up so early!

Phil

For someone who took both the Tube and Paris Metro for the first time last month, I would have to say that the Tube is far better. Paris Metro's trains were all old and dirty compared to the Tube. I also did not like the accessibility in Paris Metro, it was exhausting to my mother in law. I did like the fares compared to the Tube though.

Phil

As someone who took both the Tube and the Paris Metro, I would have to say that I liked the Tube more compared to Paris Metro. The Metro's trains were quite old and dirty and I also did not like the accessibility, it is not convenient for elder/disabled people. I did like the fact that the Metro was way cheaper than the Tube.

Tabish Khan

Geoff, very surprised you gave the Paris Metro the vote on information and navigation. The annoying thing about the blue and white 'M' sign is it's barely visible at street level. While the Underground roundel stands out even when a significant distance away.

Also the numbering and lettering system of lines may be more logical but utterly soulless. Lines should have proper names, gives them real character. Plus humans are illogical creatures and we are better at remembering names than numbers when referencing lines.

Vincent

Note that the last time Paris metro had a major strike was in 2007, no major disturb since then unlike London Underground which had numerous strikes these last years.

CaroleF

And now for something completely different - the broken Washington DC subway system, with decades of mismanagement. http://www.wmata.com/about_met...

Greg Tingey

YES!
It is perfectly possible to run a major-city/capital metro system without DEAFENING THE PASSENGERS.
The Undergound will NOT be told, they claim it's "essential"
They are lying

martinbaines

Paris may have more stations in a small area, but the topology of the lines is nothing like as useful as the lines in central London and if you select two random places to go from/to much more often than in London you end up with either a big detour and multiple changes or just no useful route at all.

Also let's talk about changing - "flat" junctions are actually useful not bad, sure they can confuse if you do not get that they exist, but they reduce walking, and in the latter the Metro loses big time. Not only do they have the annoying habit of naming each station at a connection a different name (think Monument and Bank), to confuse, a lot more of the connections involve route marches along long mazes of tunnels (again think Monument/Bank, or the Green Park or Waterloo Jubilee Line connections). London is far from perfect in this score (c.f. Hong Kong or Singapore where the systems are modern with all connections cross platform), but it beats Paris by miles in that respect.

I know these are fun comparison exercises, but both the Underground (and its sisters of the DLR, Overground and trams) and the Metro (with its sisters of RER and trams) are systems which have grown over a long time and provide a great system for the cities they serve. Both can learn from each other, but I don't really think either is "better" than the other.

Dave K

I liked the art nouveau station entrances in Paris and the larger bore tunnels, but not the people hoping over the turnstiles to get onto the platform or the unnerving sight of 5 armed policemen waiting on the platform.

R Goodacre

One slight disappointment in London's excellent new generation walk-through trains is that they don't have the tri-masted poles of the Paris metro, a simple feature that means that a number of people can cling onto a pole without jostling for hand space. An obviously convenient feature - I wonder why it wasn't copied.

Sukesbad

The major plus for Paris is that you never have to walk too far to get to a station, and the pricing is good, trains run later and more frequently. But the London map is better as you just have to remember name and colour of line, and northbound etc. Living in Paris I had to remember the termini as well as number, tho it's a matter of getting used to it. London wins hands down on modernity, cleanliness and accessibility, and proactive station staff. The lack of accessibility, long tunnels - les couloirs - in Paris are an issue if you are older, less mobile or with luggage, buggies and children. Has anyone mentioned that special smell the Metro has? I think they have started to use special perfume to mask it on some lines. Some of the super stations from the 70's like Le Chatelet and Les Halles are starting to look run down. I agree there are more hustlers and beggars in Paris. Big issue for London is the volume of passengers and growth in numbers. Stations close at peak times to avoid overcrowding and the platforms can be downright dangerous at times. Trains often too crowded. What is the comparison on air con and Wi-Fi? One final point London has a clear upgrade programme but is troubled by very ancient signal infrastructure in parts - 1922 components still being used?? One thing is certain I get fitter after using the metro with all the walking. I note that Paris had improved the bus signage on my last visit and consequently I used buses more. And to think when I met Boris in a Paris cafe by chance in December, I quizzed him on the Quietway cycling programme instead of asking what London could learn from the Paris Metro!

David Swift

You didn't mention what a great vagrant hostel the metro makes, particularly in winter or on a rainy day. I really love the huge number of staircases and lack of escalators too. Keeps me really fit.

Soph M

On my last visit to Paris I came out at Haussmann st lazare station only to find the exit gates had been closed and there wasn't a single member of staff seen anywhere to help. In the end I followed the rest of the Parisian crowd and crawled out under the barriers. Majority of other stations I passed through also had no staff around for assistance. Not to mention a lot of them also smelt of pee... Topped off with a farting homeless man sleeping on a platform which then yanked his trousers down to moon the rest of the platform. my metro experiences haven't left me with a good impression. The only plus I've seen is the prices. London still wins for me.

tom547

"Why? Because rail companies that started out separately eventually merged together."

Not always. The reason why the Met, Circle and H&C all share track east of Baker Street is because they all used to be owned by a single company (The Metropolitan Railway), which viewed itself as a regular railway, except underground! Therefore, the company felt it was natural for trains departing from a single platform to go to a variety of destinations. When they were taken over by the London Transport Board, the various services were split up into their disparate lines. You can still see this "Railway"-esque attitude on the District, where you have the line splitting off into multiple branches at Earl's Court.

The major exceptions to this are the Piccadilly/Metropolitan line sharing west of Rayner's Lane, and the District/H&C Line share east of Aldgate which are service alterations brought in post-merger.

Beth Clark-Harrington

As a recent visitor to both Paris and London, this article was fun to read. I caught on to the Metro system much faster than my daughter, but it was the other way around while we were in London. The car still rules in my city, although several "light rail" (above ground, electric trains) lines have been built to complement the bus lines. I extend an invitation to Geoff to come visit a major Mid-Western city with a fledgling train system.

Stanislas E. Fzl

Nobody mentioned London Tube terminating its course in certain stations of its line while all Parisian metros cover their entire line...Sometimes provoking the need to exit at a station and wait for the next one in order to get to the targeted point...
And works on tube railways during entire weekends would never happen in Paris. As all maintenance works are performed during the closing hours...

Anise Bullimore

The lack of endless announcements on the Paris metro is great and we loved the way the station announcement was delivered as a question and answer... Pigalle? Pigalle. And the station seats - we played a game guessing the colour n shape of the seats for the next station. Children travel for free in london but not only did we have to pay for them in Paris we had to be separated from them as we tried to get in and out of the big, clunky gates which took some getting used to.

Ric Euteneuer

Worth mentioning is the Paris equivalent of the London Day travelcard - the aforementioned "Mobilis". This costs (for zones 1 and 2) - €7. If you're going to make more than 3 bus or tube journeys, or are going on a long bus journey, it's worth it. The ticket machines accept cards and you can change the language to English. The tickets are valid on buses, RER and SNCF trains (within Paris), trams, and metro. You need to write your name on them, but that aside - go ! Couple of confusions - you need them to gain access to (but not leave) the platforms...except if you are using the RER, where you need them to leave as well. Also, there are a couple of stations - La Defense springs to mind - where, for the metro, the station is in zone 2 but for the RER, it's in zone 3...but you can exit via the metro platforms even if you've used the RER...

I disagree with the usual lazy stereoptyping of the French. It's certainly no worse than London, and sometimes considerably better. Geoff is right about accessibility - you certainly notice this with heavy luggage as well. Some linking tunnels go on for what seems hundreds of metres :-(

Matthias Wolff

Could you pleaaaaase do London Underground vs Rotterdam Metro next? I know the Rotterdam metro is a lot smaller, but I think it could make a very interesting comparison...

dm10003

Are flat junctions really that confusing? Isn't it a matter of train car signage and conductor announcements to avoid getting on the wrong train? If walking and station size is an issue, flat junctions can be desirable, especially when a tracks are shut down and a line must take another route.

A New Yorker

Rita Palermi

Paris metro smells like pee all the time, in every single station. Sorry, but I prefer London tube anytime.

Mary

I like the london underground map. I like that it's a small snap shot. Maps that you have to unfold are just to big to unfold like a broard sheet.

Robert Luke Peacock

Compared to London Underground the Paris Metro stinks (literally) it is like every corner location in it has been used as a toilet. The little tickets you buy are very temperamental, you have them in your pocket too long or put them near anything like a phone or a contactless card they stop working, I had to replace mine twice in one day. Also the doors on the train tend to open while the train is still moving which seems a bit unsafe especially for small children.

joncwriter

Oof. Having just come from both cities a few weeks ago, I can say hands down that London wins:
--Signage outside the actual platforms in Paris. Once you're away from the trains, good luck trying to figure out which exit you need. We were completely turned around at the Gare du Nord with no way of knowing we'd end up a mile away from where we actually needed to be to catch our train back to London. London's signage is absolutely phenomenal (thank you TfL) so 99% of the time I knew where I was going to end up.
--Paris is NOT handicap-friendly. At all. So many moments of extremely thin exits, complete lack of elevators (I actually lost how many times I turned a corner only to see YET ANOTHER set of stairs I had to climb with my luggage), and their gap-minding is more like 'watch out for that first step, it's a doozy', especially at the Eurostar train at the Gare du Nord. Sure, London has a few questionable stops as well, but none as bad as the ones we had to contend with in Paris.
--AC? What is this AC you speak of? We like all our underground stops to be a sweltering hotbox of stank! London's stops could get stuffy at times, but there was always a fan or a breeze blowing to keep the air moving and cool.

[That said...Paris is indeed a beautiful and awesome city. Just that their public transportation is in BAD need of updating.]

Brian Morden

I live in Rome, so, you know... just 2 and a half underground lines, but I know London as my pockets and I've been in Paris too and... no match at all, apart of the costs, London Underground (and Overground, and Dlr and trams, and trains...)
wins hands down, ever and ever!