Here’s a guide to French transportation services, from trains to buses, subways, trams, and taxi services.
There are modern, efficient, and affordable transportation services across France.
National and inter-regional transport is covered by the state-run railway network, the SNCF, as well as by inter-city flights operated by the Air France group and budget carriers who have struggled to establish new routes in Air France territory.
The major French cities offer at the least adequate and often comprehensive public transport as a cheap alternative to the use of cars, which many urban authorities are increasingly discouraging.
Transportation in Paris
The public transport system in and around Paris is probably the best of any city in Europe in terms of geographical spread, speed, upkeep and tariffs. The capital is criss-crossed with publicly-run services by bus, underground (or subway) and overhead rail and trams, which are all grouped under one authority, called the RATP.
You can buy one-journey tickets or the cheaper travel passes that allow you to use any of the services as often as you please. The pass commonly used by commuters in and around the capital is called the carte orange, which covers transport across an area of up to some 50 kilometres around the capital.
A contactless magnetic pass allowing passengers to pass through gates smoothly is now available and if combined with a direct-debit ‘Integrale’ subscription provides roughly 10 months unlimited travel within the zones selected for the price of 12 with a conventional ticket.
Most employers will pay 50 percent of the cost of any travel pass.
The Paris underground métro lines serve virtually every small neighbourhood in the capital, and run from 5.30am until around 1am. A revamped night bus service linking central Paris to destinations all over the city and the Ile de France region will get you home during the small hours.
The average frequency of métro trains is around every five minutes. The métro lines are designated by number, and the direction is indicated by the name of the terminus station.
There is also an express commuter train service, the RER, which links regions outlying Paris with the centre of the capital, where it runs underground.
Tickets for travel within the city limits cost EUR 1.40 each (un ticket) or EUR 10.90 for a set of ten, carnet de tickets (2006 prices). One ticket gives you access to either the bus or metro, and for the duration of one uninterrupted journey only, although in the case of the metro you can ride as many lines as necessary to get to your destination.
Plans are currently afoot however to introduce a ticket allowing unlimited travel for a period of 60-90 minutes.
Prices for the carte orange vary according to the geographical zone you choose, but start at EUR 52.50 per month for Paris only and rise to EUR 142.70 per month for the entire Paris region. There are also weekly and inter-suburban rates.
You get find tickets, passes and information from any métro station, and carnets of tickets are also available at many tabacs (licensed tobacconist shop).
Other French cities
Every French town and city has a public transport service, and regional coach companies operate bus lines in rural areas. Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes and Toulouse all have metro services. Tickets or passes from the local transport service will cover all travel in your town, city or rural region.
In 2017 French rail operator SNCF offered an unlimited monthly pass for EUR 79 per month for those aged 16 to 27 years old, in order to woo young users back from ridesharing apps. With the pass, you can board nearly all of SNCF’s regular and high-speed trains to any destination. Cheap intercity buses and ridesharing apps, such as BlaBlaCar, have mushroomed in recent years in France. State-owned SNCF has also ventured into intercity buses and ridesharing services, but with the focus typically on sharing rides to and from its train stations.
Taxis in France
French taxis are licensed by the local prefecture, which imposes strict rules on roadworthiness, passenger capacity (a minimum of three) and working hours. Private minicabs do not exist and all cabs operate in the same manner and to the same tariffs in each region. Inevitably, many taxi drivers will exploit non-locals by taking unnecessary detours or simply overcharging and for especially long journeys it is common and wise to ask for a fixed price, forfait.
Taxis in Paris can be hailed in the street, at the numerous taxi ranks found in every district or booked by phone. Taxis are allowed to charge extra for a fourth passenger and will often refuse to do so.
Two of the largest taxi operating companies in the capital are G7 (Tel: 01 47 39 47 39) and Taxis Bleus (Tel: 0891 70 10 10).
National rail services in France
The French railway network is run by a single authority, state-run SNCF, and is managed as a public service. The network is comprehensive, trains run with the precision of a Swiss watch and tariffs are cheaper per kilometre than most other European countries. The network includes suburban, regional and national and international lines.
The SNCF operates a high speed train (TGV) service linking most French regions. The TGV is a speedy (it travels at around 250 kph) and cheaper inter-city transport alternative to the plane. International TGV services also link Paris with London (by Eurostar) and Brussels and Amsterdam (by Thalys).
You can buy all types of rail tickets by major credit card and at any SNCF station, or by calling 3635. Internet sales have rocketed lately and many deals, only available online, allow travellers to print their own ticket directly from the website.
Promotions offer substantial savings for those booking ahead and last-minute bargains are posted on the site on Tuesdays.