Paris is preparing to welcome the world – this is why I won’t be on the Métro

The City of Light is counting down to the Games, but their legacy should be front of mind

January 13, 2024 6:00 am(Updated 6:02 am)

This week, the capital of the world’s most popular tourist destination celebrated “200 days to go” until it hosts the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics. The games will bring an additional three million visitors to Paris this summer, increasing tourist spend by as much as €4bn (£3.4bn), according to global market research firm Euromonitor, which hailed Paris as the world’s most attractive city destination in its annual index last year.

But, as a disabled person, it can be very difficult to get around the City of Light.

Why? Because only one line of the Paris Métro is fully accessible – Line 14, the newest, links nine stations that have road-to-train access, including the Olympic and Paralympic village in Saint-Denis, Paris-Orly airport and Gare de Lyon. Yet most flights from the UK land at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, while Eurostar terminates at Gare du Nord, neither of which are on Line 14.

Of the 308 Paris Métro stations, only 3 per cent of the network is fully accessible for passengers with reduced mobility. This lack of access makes journey planning difficult.

Twelve stations on other lines have road-to-platform accessibility, meaning that staff assistance is still required to deploy the ramp to get on the train. So 287 stations – 93 per cent of the Métro system – are out of bounds for passengers with reduced mobility.

By contrast, 95 per cent of Barcelona’s metro is accessible, making getting around the Catalan capital a relative breeze.

As in London, Paris’s metro map has its own way of denoting which stations are accessible: stations with a green circle/dot are accessible for wheelchair users to use without any assistance. Stations with yellow dots are accessible with help from staff, who are available on demand. A third category – stations marked with a yellow-circled telephone – are wheelchair-accessible only by calling up beforehand. Vraiment!

However, that doesn’t mean that Paris isn’t a great city for disabled travellers.

The fully accessible bus network eases the transport worries. Buses have automatic ramps and decent-sized wheelchair spaces. There is a separate space for buggies too, which avoids the conflicts that are often seen in the UK.

This summer, the local transport authority will offer a transfer service for wheelchair-using spectators between games venues and transport hubs, when large crowds are expected on the public transport network. Bookings will open soon.

I also enjoy wheeling around Paris: pavements are decent and easily traversable. Travelling more slowly as I see the sights means I often find quirky eateries or bistros.

Ellis Palmer Picture supplied by Ellis Palmer
Ellis Palmer loves exploring Paris on four wheels

There is an extensive network of public lavatories, too, which tend to be accessible for most wheelchair users. This means I don’t have to have a scramble for a coffee shop with an accessible facility when I need to go.

The letters PMR (“Personnes à Mobilité Réduite”) are the ones you need to memorise for a visit to Paris. They mean you can get into the faster accessible queue or obtain a discount for entry to the Eiffel Tower and other attractions.

There are also considerable discounts for disabled passengers and the principal person travelling with them on Eurostar. Going by train also means you also arrive far less anxious about whether your mobility aids have been broken on the flight.

Yes, the Parisian transit system continues to let down wheelchair users – but that shouldn’t stop them visiting the city.

A key component of the Olympic and Paralympic legacy is “creating a lasting positive impact” – and that must include accessibility for all.