Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
A series of ads aims to restore civility to the Paris subway.
If you've ever wondered why Parisians often look grumpy or poker-faced on the Metro, a survey commissioned recently by Paris transport bosses could help explain why. The study, published this summer by city transport authority RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), found that the French capital’s network is blighted by an epidemic of the sort of rude behavior that would put anyone’s back up. From all Parisian passengers questioned, 97 percent said they’d witnessed rule-breaking and impoliteness from their fellow Metro and bus passengers at least once in the past month. As a result, the RATP has been trying to shame selfish transport users into better behavior by running an ongoing advertising campaign (featured below) that portrays them as animals.
The campaign might seem to feed the tired (and unjust) prejudice that Parisians are a bunch of connards, but the petty annoyances RATP's survey records will be familiar to any public transit user. Public enemy number one, said respondents, was people talking loudly on the phone (86 percent had experienced this in the past month), followed closely by fare dodgers jumping ticket barriers (83 percent had seen this) and riders blocking people’s way (76 percent). Standing still on the left side of escalators was also frustratingly common (75 percent), as was eating in cars (73 percent), and pushing people without apologizing (71 percent).
Beyond these standard subway nuisances, the Paris Metro has created its own specific crimes. Sixty-nine percent complained of people who sat on the fold-down seats located near train doors even when the car was crowded – properly these should be vacated during busy times to free up more standing room.
The survey and campaign have struck a chord, so much so that RATP has set up a website, www.chervoisin2transport.fr (“dear transport neighbor”) where the public can make memes out of key transport crimes (this one, for example, screams “I’m next to a redhead!”). Talk to Parisians about metro manners, however, and they’ll often say that slight rudeness on the network is an inevitable product of being cramped in a big, impersonal city – and that an advertising campaign won’t change this.
"Have you ever been in the Paris Metro? I mean, who would be happy to be there?" asks Parisian graphic designer Laurent Besson. "Everything is tiny, packed, it smells, there are delays, not enough seats for everybody, you get robbed or asked for money all the time. The Metro isn't a nice environment and being smiley and opening up to people means basically that you are either crazy or asking for something."
They may be slightly harassed, but Parisians at least seem to be fairly honest and self-aware – 63 percent of survey respondents admitted that they had at some point committed some of the very crimes they were complaining about.
Here are the RATP’s public service announcements, their rhyming slogans alas slightly lost in translation.
“If you jostle people while boarding, you still won’t leave any faster.”
“Dirty your seat on the way there, and you risk getting stained on the way back.”
“Jump a barrier and you may face a ticket control on the platform.”
“Get lazy at peak hours, and you risk a few complaints.”
“When it’s at 86 decibels, a secret is no longer confidential.”
“Block the doors, and you make everyone late.”
Top photo: Bruno Marguerite/RATP.
Advertisement images courtesy of the RATP.