Paris 2024: It's a shame that the subway won't be barrier-free during the Paralympic Games


image source, BBC / Nathan Standley

image caption, Nicholas Caffin takes BBC correspondent Nikki Fox to a bus stop in Paris – as there is little wheelchair access on the metro

  • author, nicky fox
  • role, Disability Correspondent

France's leading disability charity said it was “absolutely scandalous” that more was not being done to improve the accessibility of Paris' metro network ahead of the Paralympics.

APF France Handicap said the metro was a “huge stain” on the city's Paralympic legacy.

The president of the International Paralympic Committee said he understood the “frustration” but pointed to the “huge investment” in the city's buses.

A wheelchair user in France has told the BBC that the lack of accessibility on the metro is a source of “shame”.

Before Paris was awarded the Olympics in 2017, organisers made accessibility central to their bid, promising “accessible infrastructure and attitude befitting the most visited country on earth”.

Shuttle buses and accessible taxis are provided to assist people with disabilities in getting around.

But APF national adviser on universal accessibility Nicola Merrill said the authority had not made any permanent changes to improve it.

“The legacy is very, very weak,” he said.

“And obviously the big problem is Metro.”

image source, BBC/Nathan Standley

image caption, French TikTok influencer Arthur Beaucheron says it takes him twice as long to travel to Paris as his non-disabled friends.

TikTok influencer Arthur Beaucheron is so popular in France that he was chosen to carry the torch ahead of the Olympics.

But Mr Beaucheron, who counts French President Emmanuel Macron among his followers on Instagram, finds it almost impossible to use the metro to get around his capital.

He says, “My dream is to ride the subway.''

Ahead of the Games, Braille markers were added to the handrails and audio announcements were introduced to make the station more accessible to some people with disabilities.

However, only one of the 16 subway lines is fully wheelchair accessible, with elevators, step-free access, and no gaps between trains and platforms.

Mr Beaucheron told BBC News it was a “disappointment” not to have access to more stations, adding that he sometimes had to take three buses to see friends in the city.

“For example, it's very complicated to get from point A to point B without using a taxi, but it costs more money, and all of us don't have the money to take a taxi every time we need to go somewhere.'' “It's not like they have it,” he says.

image source, BBC/Nathan Standley

image caption, Nicolas Caffin travels to central Paris up to five times a week and says public transport can be slow.

On the outskirts of Maisons Lafitte, just over 18 miles from the center of Paris, Nicolas Caffin waits for the 7:16 p.m. train into town.

We met him outside the station and two security guards escorted us through the ticket gates to the platform, then set up a ramp to board the train.

He later said he could not always rely on the same level of service as when traveling with the BBC team.

Caffen, who previously lived in the UK, said he felt the London Underground was more reliable, with more than a third of the 272 stations accessible by wheelchairs.

“If one line is cancelled, we have a replacement plan for wheelchairs,” he said on the train heading to Auber station in central Paris.

“But in France, if one line stops, you have to rely on buses. There is no option.”

image caption, Cuffin said he can't always rely on security guards to help with ramps to trains.

We are heading to a bar along the Seine to meet Mr. Caffin's friends. He goes into town about 5 times a week for appointments and socializing.

The bar is one stop away on metro line 8 and can be reached within 15 minutes after getting off at Auber station.

However, this route is not available, so you have to leave the station and find a bus stop, which takes more than 30 minutes to reach your final destination.

We're with Mr. Caffin on French Holidays, so the streets are quiet, but we still walk the bumpy path between bus stops, avoiding high curbs that block access to some crosswalks.

Paris authorities have invested €125m (£107m) in the city's buses in the run-up to the Games, and all buses are now accessible and each can carry two wheelchair users. It looks like this.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons told the BBC he was disappointed that further improvements had not been made to the subway in the run-up to the Games.

But he said it would have required legislative changes and “huge” investment to make a significant impact on the seven-year preparation period.

“It became virtually impossible,” he said.

Instead, he pointed to the authorities' “huge investment” in city buses.

“We understand there is a degree of frustration with not having a subway, but we also want to highlight the positive outcomes and legacies from this convention, which is investing in our bus transit system and making it more accessible,” he said.

A spokesperson for RATP Group, which operates public transport in Paris, said the metro network is “very old and one of the densest in the world”, so making widespread changes would be difficult and expensive. said.

Caffin said that as a disabled person in Paris, “we always have to fight hard,” but added that “there are always solutions.”

“It's not always easy to go out, but if you know the place and the people, there's always a way around it.”

Additional reporting by Munaza Rafiq and Ana Lanzon.



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