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Blog Posted in avatar   Johnny Summerton's Blog

The charm of a Parisian bus driver - not

By Johnny Summerton
Posted Jun 23, 2011 in Travel
The public transport system in Paris is pretty good and getting around the French capital by metro, bus or tram is relatively easy - strikes notwithstanding of course.
All right, so the metro may be crowded most of the time, but it's extensive and certainly beats sitting in your car getting nowhere...very slowly.
Well that's if you don't mind going nose-to-nose with fellow travellers and getting uncomfortably intimate with strangers during rush hour.
Then there's the bus network, with journey time made faster by Bertrand Delanoë - bless his little cotton socks - the current mayor, coming up with the bright idea of creating bus lanes.
Or seen from another perspective; taking a road previously capable of holding two (sometimes three - this is Paris after all) lanes of traffic, and handing part of it over to the exclusive use of buses (with taxis and cyclists also allowed in on the act).
Environmentally friendlier undoubtedly, but a motorist's nightmare during and after construction - and still in places very much a work in progress with cars just having one lane for their use and concrete barriers preventing them from crossing over into the one reserved for buses.
Both the metro and the buses, along with three lines of the tram, are operated by Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens or RATP.
Once you've bought a pass - as a visitor usually Paris Visite and for residents the Passe Navigo - for one day, week, month or whatever - for one or all of the capital's six zones, you can hop on and off the metro, bus and tram at will.
RATP helpfully lists and explains your options on its site.
While you're unlikely to meet (or even see) the driver of either the metro or the tram, the same cannot be said for the person steering the bus.
In fact you can't miss him...or's more usually a man at the wheel although you might come across the occasional woman driver (no unwise comments please).
Not that it seems to matter very much.
Now it might be a big city thing, but bus drivers in the French capital sure are a surly lot.
There's rarely a smile as a sign of recognition as passengers clamber aboard and often not even a Gallic grunt in return for a hearty "hello".
There again there isn't really much need as most passengers will be validating their passes automatically, waving them in front of the machines as they board.
The only contact drivers have with passengers is when someone needs to buy a ticket, and this is where they come into their own.
It's also your chance to discover the delightful bonhomie and charm of the average Parisian bus driver.
First up, make sure you have the right change available. Ask fellow travellers waiting in line, they'll have an idea because, although drivers have change THEY DON'T APPRECIATE HAVING TO HAND IT OVER.
When you board, say where you would like to go (try the "hello" or "bonjour" method, but don't expect a response).
After you've handed over THE CORRECT AMOUNT OF MONEY (remember) you'll be given a ticket in return and you'll then need to validate in a machine next to the driver.
Clearly he/she has his hands full holding the wheel and cannot provide you with an already-validated ticket (NB: it's not the same machine that fellow passengers have been merrily waving their passes at, but one which gobbles up and then spits out the proffered ticket).
Ticket in hand, grab hold of something quickly because the driver is more than likely to hurtle off into the Parisian traffic with that shuddering start-stop-start-brake-jerk style that might well see you end up in the lap of that little old lady minding her own business.
Welcome to Paris and bon voyage.