11 May 2013

London Tube vs Paris Metro

When we're not talking perpetually about the weather or complaining about French mannerisms, there's something we British expats love to discuss more than anything else: travel.  And by travel I don't mean jetting off to the Canary Islands, sipping cocktails on the Beach in Malibu, CA or telling relentless tales of what we got up to on our Gap Yahs.  I mean that ceaselessly boring system called public transport which involves coexisting in a confined space for what seems like an eternity.  No-one likes it; in fact, we all loathe it.  But in short of splashing our student loans on limousines and chauffeurs, we don't have much choice.

Public transport in Paris has become the bane of my life.  Why? Well, mostly because I rely on it too religiously which can only end in disappointment.  However, if you are in the habit of arriving hopelessly late for rendez-vous' with your friends, it can provide the perfect excuse for being en retard (French word for late, not "retard" à  la "The Hangover") to a lunch date or evening drinks.  I.e.: "Soooo sorry daaahling, but the metro has been at a standstill for the past twenty minutes and it's taking an aaage" - a typical text message written whilst applying that last lick of lipgloss in front of the mirror in your very cosy Parisian apartment.  Not once in the message have you said you are actually on the metro so you can be (slightly) forgiven for lying through your teeth.

But it seems that my British friends in Paris are divided between the Paris Metro and the London Tube, which got me thinking: which one is better?  Or, should I say, which one is the least crap?  The winner is in red!
  • The Tube has been operating since 1863 while the first metro line in Paris didn't open until 1900, with the core underground network completed by 1920.  Tube wins for its ripe old age.  It's so vintage it could pass as fashionable.
  • The Metro serves 33 more stations than the Tube, with an eye-popping figure of 303.  The Metro is also the second busiest underground system in Europe, after Moscow.  Metro wins for quantity of stations but loses to the Tube for being so busy!
  • Since last year, free wifi access has been available to customers on the Metro and using a mobile phone is quite the norm, while travellers in London are scraping the barrel for non-existent phone signal.  If you find yourself caught up in an underground strike or you are experiencing delays, the Tube is your worst enemy whereas the Metro phone coverage keeps you in the loop!  Metro wins for technology efficiency! 

  • The underground passageways in Paris are wider and more spacious than in London which often feels overwhelmingly claustrophobic.  The train ceilings in the Metro are also much higher and there are more places to sit.  Metro wins for space and comfort!
  • The Metro system is better connected and the trains tend to come more frequently (London's circle line via Liverpool Street must come about every 10-15 minutes which is shocking).  In Paris, you also don't get multiple trains heading in different directions on the same platform like you do in London (which can be confusing!)  Metro wins for efficiency and clarity!
  • I know London is much bigger than Paris which might explain why the distance between each station is so much longer, but it seems to take a decade to get anywhere!  Metro wins for speed. 

  • The closing of the Metro doors could lose you a leg if you're not careful because they're automatic and stop for nobody, and I mean nobody.  While they do give plenty of warnings about how quickly the doors shut through use of overhead tannoys and posters, I think the best solution would be to avoid overly violent door closure on the trains.  More than once have I seen someone almost get their head sliced in two and I've definitely had to haul my handbag through the gap on a number of occasions before the door squeezed the life out of it.  It may be irritating when the Tube doors open and close all the time but it definitely wins for passenger safety. 
  • The Metro is always breaking down, whether due to an "unwell passenger" or "technical problems" and the delays always occur at the worst possible moments.  At least they actually warn you in advance with the Tube since more often than not it's "planned engineering works" rather than "uh-oh, Houston we have a problem".  In London it's always the same suspects - for example, between Paddington and Edgware Road - while taking the Paris Metro is always a spontaneous adventure.  I.e. you know the train will break down somewhere, but when and where remains a mystery.  Metro loses for being unreliable while the Tube loses for non-stop maintenance.
  • The Metro stinks like crazy of urine and other foul matter and it's filled with homeless people asking for money, being sick, picking at their feet and rifling through bins.  It also seems to be the hide-out for perves and creeps whose hobbeys include staring at young women and attempting to feel them up or invite them for coffee.  We all know what that means.  Tube wins for classier clientele and cleanliness!
  • The way out signs for each Metro station are numbered and named and there are always close-up maps to help advise you which exit to take, unlike in London where you can waste valuable time waiting around at the wrong exit because they're unnamed and they decided to put a Starbucks at both ends (#takingthepiss). Metro wins for simplicity. 
  • The levels of pickpocketing are much higher on the Metro and bags are regularly getting slashed. Be careful of those little gypsy kids.  They'd make Oliver Twist's Fagan a happy man!  Tube wins for safety.  
  • The Tube is less jerky and you don't need to hold onto a railing for support unlike the Metro where people are always falling into strangers' laps and tripping over.  The French are also much less forgiving of these accidental slip-ups unlike the English who apologise all the time, even when it's clearly not their fault. I was once called a "putain" by a middle-aged French woman for accidentally knocking into her.  This can be translated to mean either "Damn it!" or "Whore!"  I'm hoping it was the former. Tube wins for better train drivers and less bitchy people.
  • To slightly follow on from my previous point, the French (or people in France) don't really understand the concept "personal space".  The Metro may be busy but that's no excuse for sticking your arm in someone's face, plunging your elbow into their back, stepping on their feet or wacking them in the face with your rucksack.  Being spatially aware is important; something a few people need to work on.  Tube wins for spatial awareness of clientele.
  • The Metro is much noisier and often makes horrible high-pitched shrieks when it moves. It's also brimming with annoying musicians who can't sing to save their lives who then attempt to play their out-of-tune instruments which only succeeds in bursting your ear drums.  Tube wins for being quieter.
  • Metro generally closes at 1.30am on weekdays and then an hour later at weekends while the Tube closes as early as midnight or 12.30am latest.  Metro wins for staying open for longer!
  • London's Oyster cards are rubbish compared to the Navigo cards available in Paris.  Travel in Paris isn't dirt cheap, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper than London as you pay a standard weekly or monthly fare which will get you unlimited travel unlike Oyster cards which rack up a hefty sum.  It works out at about £13/week for unlimited travel in Paris with the Navigo card while you can spend the same amount in two days on an Oyster.  Metro wins for value for money!

Metro: 8, Tube: 8

Ground-breaker:  Which one do I least want to have a mental breakdown on?  This is a hard one, but probably the Tube because English people tend to annoy me less than French people.

Maybe if we combined the good qualities from each underground service we'd be able to get a result which wasn't half-bad and we could name it either The Tetro or the Mube.  On second thoughts, the former sounds like an alien aircraft and the latter like a saggy man boob. 

Let me know your thoughts!


  1. Brilliant atricle - I would have to say the Tube for me is waaaaay better not least because the Metro is so DIRTY. Yuck. Thank goodness for antibacterial hand gel! I was even so impressed with the cleanliness of the Tube by comparison back in January that I tweeted tfl and good old Boris! I wish the tube would employ some blinkin' cleaners :O(

    1. Thank you!! I couldn't agree more about the metro being dirty...really is quite disgusting! And I often feel unsafe when I'm taking it...especially at night-time! Hehehe good on you for tweeting something relevant...I spend my life tweeting mundane jargon!

      Must say - it's nice not being harassed on the tube by people begging for money the whole time...but then that probably has something to do with the sheer quantity of homeless people in Paris!

    2. Just had 4 days in Paris and 6 in London. Both tube and Metro worked well and were clean. We took the Metro home after midnight from the Tower and did not feel unsafe, and we were only panhandled once and that was in Geneva.

  2. Oops I mean I wish the Metro would employ some cleaners!

  3. I am french and I agree to say that the tube is so much better than the metro (cleaner, safer, more reliable ...)

  4. It's funny, but from an American's perspective, when I visited Paris this summer in early July, I found the Metro to be quite marvelous compared to what I was used to (gotta love the MTA/NY Subway). I also experienced the Tube, but due to the fact that I traveled on it during the hotter part of this summer, my experience was somewhat soured by the fact that English public transport is (by and large) not airconditioned. That's about the only perk that the NY Subway has over its counterparts, I must say.

    WRT the Metro, I have to say my experience has differed from yours, or perhaps I was not bothered by the Metro's defects (the jerkiness of motion, the smells and dirtiness, noise, petty theft) because I am a veteran of the NY Subway system. Seriously, if the aforementioned puts you off, don't use the NY Subway: the Metro is practically pristine by comparison. It's certainly better lit, far more reliable, and idiot-proof to navigate.

    Also, with respect to the famed French rudeness -- I don't know if it's the benefit of being American versus English, although I could have sworn the French disliked us as well, or at least the benefit of being a tourist in an economic climate where my euros are greatly desired -- but I did not encounter any or very much rudeness at all. It was utterly contrary to what I expected, especially being Asian, I imagined that I'd experience racism in some shape or form (such as being mistaken for a North African person, due to my skin color), but I was treated decently everywhere, even in such high-scale venues like Le Bon Marché.

    In fact, at one point on the Metro, when I struggled to open one of those manual doors and get off at my stop, I cast a pleading look at a lady seated by the door, who obliged me with little exasperation for my ineffectuality. And everywhere on the Metro, I heard "pardonne" from anyone who bumped into or shouldered by me.

    Again, I must emphasize, it was like nothing I'd expected. But perhaps being used to worse prepared me? (Although I will say, I think NYers get an unfair rap, not unlike Parisians, when it comes to rudeness.)

  5. Great post! I sat here and found myself agreeing with everything!

  6. You guys are crazy if you prefer the claustrophobic Tube.

    Paris Metro is efficient and fast, and was built for the metropolitan city centre.
    London Tube was build for the working class from the suburbs, bringing the working class to “the city”

    Also the city of London *downtown is only 1 square mile.
    Paris centre is 10 times the size of London centre.

    London is not a compact city and is very inefficient,
    Only NY can be compared with Paris.
    And London with Moscow

  7. I've been to Paris numerous times, and just returned from a week to London. In my experience, the Tube is rubbish when compared to the Métro. Its age works against the Tube, because it means you have all these listed buildings in which you're not allowed to build any escalators or lifts, which is a bit of an issue if your wife hurts her leg and can't get up the stairs. Guess how we found out...

    Not that the Métro is without stairs, far from it, but usually it's just a hole in the ground, without all those restrictions you find in London.

    As for the noise, many of the Paris trains run on rubber tyres, so they're actually a lot quieter. What the Métro does a lot better, too, is the unidirectional corridors. In Paris, you'll never walk against the flow, or it would have to be an exceptionally wide corridor. In London, you can find narrow corridors or stairs, and have people coming from the other direction.

    The Métro is much denser, too (in fact, the densest subway system in the world), which means that you never have to walk far to find a station. In my perception, it has better interconnects, too.The only place where you have to walk a certain amount is, ironically, the Eiffel Tower. In contrast, London has whole areas without a Tube station at a reasonable walking distance.

    The Métro looks a lot better. Much of the Tube consists of old, Victorian structures, that usually look somewhat gloomy. The Métro has a much more uniform look to it, with brightly lit stations with white tiles. At least, most stations: if you compare a relatively modern Tube station like Westminster to, shall we say, Saint Lazare, there's absolutely no comparison.

    Métro trains are all the same size (the largest difference being steel or rubber wheels). This means that all trains are level with the platform, whereas in London you often have a step up or down, not to mention all the gaps you have to mind.

    As for the price, indeed the Métro is less expensive, but that is because the ticket revenue in no way makes up for the expenditure. In London, the ticket price covers around 90% of the cost; I would be very surprised indeed if Paris came anywhere close to that figure. But hey, that's why you pay taxes.

    I've NEVER experienced a breakdown in the Métro. But guess what happened between Edgeware Road and Paddington. After half an hour of waiting ("10 minutes" they said, repeatedly), our Circle line magically became a Hammersmith and City line. This was after a minor disaster trying to take a bus from Greenwich to Russel Square (to which we never made it).

    But for me, why the Métro wins hands-down is line 14. A fully automatic train, fast, beautiful stations, lifts and escalators everywhere. Granted, one of the reasons why they run automatic trains is because of the many strikes (which I again never experienced), but the end result is so well executed that it's almost a work of art. At what price, I don't know, but since I don't pay taxes in France, I don't care.