Charge! The new Paris bus law

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

The other day I was rammed by a Parisian bus. I mean I was deliberately rammed, by a lout in shades employed to be irresponsible for 20 tonnes of metal and 50 passengers.

Regulars to Expatica France will know that I have my reservations about the absolute virtues of public transport.

Of course, I cannot reasonably deny that in a polluted, over-crowded city like Paris, single use of the car - when joint use of a bus or metro is available - is a little egocentric. I even admit to occasionally partaking in the masochistic exercise of squeezing into a crowded, smelly RATP box for short journeys, although with each experience, developing my insight into the extremes of rudeness and poor personal hygiene, my expectations to do it again diminish, greatly.

So, there I was, selfishly minding my own business, comfortably seated, ventilated and serenaded in my car, when a boxload of human sardines came thumping into me. Now, I might have been tempted to believe that the white knight of the Politically Correct Transport Division was an Expatica France reader and was exacting revenge for previous comments of mine about the standards of his service.

But no, it was nothing other than an example of what happens when you bestow moral authority on a mindless idiot. It's part and parcel of a trend in Paris which is heading for major civil disorder. Aux armes, fellow car drivers!

Now, I'm all for helping public transport, to a degree. Bus lanes are sensible, and all the resulting things which inconvenience car drivers like the 'axes rouges' - avenues where any kind of parking of private vehicles is banned - is logical. I'll reserve judgement on the success of the recent introduction by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë of even wider bus lanes - thus reducing space for private traffic - although it appears, especially with all those potted plants lining them, attractive. I even understand that buses need priority when accelerating away without warning from bus stops.

But while London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, is under fire as a bigotted car-hater, with plans to introduce a toll to drive through the British capital, Paris' Delanoë is quietly getting away with even crazier ideas. Now he's planning to reduce the amount of private car parks, a grand move to force suburban commuters onto public transport. He's again, this year, closed down the centre riverside express routes (so that people can sun their bums on tarmac half-covered with sand), causing huge congestion, not to mention pollution, loss of income and, presumably, a surge in valium prescriptions for taxi drivers.

But this new law, which I hadn't seen announced anywhere, whereby bus drivers can now smash up cars whenever they feel like it, is really going too far.

I was at a red light junction. Cars turning left before me were blocked, thus in turn blocking those if us who were headed straight on. Adding to the chaos was a bus, which had jumped the lights before becoming stuck across the junction, predictably unable to turn. It was stupidity in the extreme. But there was a gap just in front of him, enough to squeeze past the grounded bus and release the jam behind. The gap, however, was part of a bus lane.

As I manouevred past him, the driver surged forward into my car, and sat there staring at me with a sneer. More chaos, the junction now completely blocked. I enquired as to his master plan, the strange thinking behind the move. Silence. Sun glasses and a sneer. I pointed out that he had crossed a red light, fouled up the traffic for at least a mile behind. "I couldn't give a toss," is the strictly-translated reply. I gave way, I think understandably, to the temptation of telling him that he would be well advised to seek medical attention for his mental handicap, an observation jointly held by other furious motorists.

The startling thing is that only a short time ago I saw this very same behaviour by one of his colleagues. A car carrying couple with young children, quite properly squeezing past a bus stuck in traffic on a Paris roundabout, was suddenly charged by the bus driver, severely denting it and lifting it high on its suspension. It was a gratuitous act, and clearly distressing for the family. When the traffic eased, the bus drove off as if nothing had happened.

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