Iconic Paris Métro paper tickets to be phased out

Iconic Paris Métro paper tickets to be phased out
Credit: Stephanie Booth / Flickr

The small rectangular metro tickets in Paris are coming to their terminus after 120 years of use, ending an era for those who saw Paris through them.

Ile-de-France Mobilites, the operator of the metro's ticketing system, had initially planned to have the paper tickets out of use by the first quarter of this year. However, the numerous crises that have occurred since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – including the microchip shortage – have halted progress as the microchips are needed to make smartcards to replace the tickets.

"We were in a hurry, but the chip crisis slowed us down," Laurent Probst, director-general at Ile-de-France Mobilites told AFP. The paper ticket sales still total 550 million per year which is more than 50 tonnes of paper.

To encourage metro users to adapt to the change, the operator has started cutting the number of metro stations that still sell carnets (cardboard tickets) and many turnstiles can no longer read them.

"As the metro ticket disappears, so does a part of our lives," said Gregoire Thonnat, a collector and author of a book on the history of the metro ticket. "The metro ticket is part of how we picture Paris."

The grave of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, decorated with flowers and the iconic Paris metro tickets. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Probst predicts the carnets will be completely phased out sometime in the next year.

A further leap toward the future

Not only the tickets are changing, but even how the turnstiles operate. The metro operator wants to introduce the use of smartphones at turnstiles, with the use of Android phones to be enabled within the coming weeks and of Apple phones in 2023.

"I'm enthusiastic about this development," Probst said. "This is a change of tides in the quality of our customer service."

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"If I see a metro ticket in a scrapbook 10 years from now, it will all come rushing back," said Sarah Sturman, an Italian-American artist in Paris who uses metro tickets in her collage work, referring to her many memories and feelings about the metro and her time in Paris.

Paperless metro are becoming commonplace

Paris's leap into the future comes 20 years after the New York subway did away with metal tokens, and over a decade after London's Underground went mostly paperless, but some are pleased that Paris has taken things slowly.

In Lisbon, the metro tickets are still cardboard but are reusable and can be recharged, reducing the number of tickets thrown away. In Brussels, although the single-use paper ticket is still in use, the city has made huge efforts to enable contactless payments and has the 10-trip option, alongside the rechargeable plastic Mobib card.

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