Terminus in sight for the Paris metro ticket

From the time that his obliteration had been announced, he had come to seem imperishable. After more than 120 years of service, the cardboard Paris metro ticket will nevertheless be extinguished, to the chagrin of lovers of the capital.

Beyond its primary function, the metro ticket will have served for everything, as a bookmark, a reminder, a wedge, even a filter for rolling joints.

“It’s a piece of our daily life, it speaks to everyone”, explains Grégoire Thonnat, ticket collector and author of a “Little history of the Parisian metro ticket”, with him “it’s a part of our life that disappears”.

“The metro ticket is one of the components of Parisian imagery”he insists.

He even gave his name to a type of pubic hair removal, the shape of which is reminiscent of this rectangle of cardboard measuring 6.5 cm by 3, with a central magnetic strip.

Ile-de-France Mobilités (IDFM), the public establishment which manages the transport system in the Paris region, initially aimed to abolish the ten-ticket booklet in mid-2020 and then the single ticket in 2021, in favor of digital alternatives.

But he had to push back these deadlines to 2022 due to the Covid-19 crisis, then again due to the shortage of electronic chips caused by the war in Ukraine. “We were in a hurry, but this smart card crisis slowed us down a bit”recognizes the managing director of IDFM, Laurent Probst.

550 million per year

The operator began several years ago to reduce the number of stations in which it is possible to buy a booklet and many turnstiles no longer read cardboard tickets.

Result: the proportion of cardboard tickets in urban travel has fallen from more than two-thirds a year ago to less than half, even if some 550 million are still sold per year.

“Habits are forming”welcomes Laurent Probst, assuring that the books will have completely disappeared during 2023. Ile-de-France Mobilités argues in particular that on a book, 1 ticket out of 10 on average is not used because lost, damaged or forgotten.

But single tickets should continue to circulate at least until 2024.

This dematerialization with the use of smartphones at the turnstile, in the coming weeks for Android and in 2023 for Apple devices, is taking place in Paris twenty years after the withdrawal of metal tokens from the New York subway and more than ten years after that of the London Underground.

But some appreciate that the French capital has taken its time.

A special place in post-Second World War French popular culture.

“I like the texture, the cleanliness of the ticket when it’s new, and how you can destroy it and still have it”says Sarah Sturman, an Italian-American artist based in Paris who uses metro tickets in her collages.

“I will continue to collect metro tickets until they are gone and then they will be even more valuable”she adds.

The metro ticket occupies a special place in post-Second World War French popular culture.

Thus, in the film “The Wages of Fear” (1953), Yves Montand offers Charles Vanel as a token of friendship, his lucky charm, a Paris metro ticket, and the song by Serge Gainsbourg “Le poinçonneur des Lilas ” (1959) pays homage to an obscure profession, condemned to obsolescence by the arrival of automatic turnstiles a decade later.

“Its lifespan is very short, one hour, one hour 30, but we get attached to it, that’s it, it’s irrational”observes Grégoire Thonnat.

Many visitors, on the other hand, say they are impatient to be able to do without the complications of the ticket offices of the Paris metro.

“I don’t like paper tickets, I want everything on my phone”, says Javier Romani, a Spanish tourist.

Stefania Grigoriadou, a Greek tourist, also prefers to book online, but intends to keep the ticket purchased to go to Disneyland Paris, near the capital.

“It’s good to have it as a souvenir”she says. “Maybe we won’t come back to Paris, that way we’ll have something to show our kids later”.

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