Getting around

We include a pdf file which provides information from the 2008 edition on the Home page.

You may need to download the free programme Acrobat Reader in order to read it.


The text below is from the previous edition of the guide.

Getting around is often the biggest challenge for a visitor with a disability, unless you bring your own transport. One of the ways to reduce the need to travel too much is to choose a centrally located hotel, or even to use two different hotels in different parts of the city, spending a few days at one, and then transferring to another.

Paris has all the usual facilities for getting around. There is public transport (principally the buses and Metro/RER), taxis and/or the use of a hire car, or of your own vehicle. Driving in Paris itself is undoubtedly a bit hairy, and not recommended if you are of a nervous disposition or if you have no experience of big city driving. Having good maps, and a competent navigator is virtually essential.

Public transport

The facilities on public transport have improved enormously since the guide was last published. Many of the buses have been replaced, and are now wheelchair accessible. This means that they are equipped with an extending ramp, and there’s a space inside which can accommodate a chair.

Using buses in a strange city is more difficult than using trains because bus maps are considerably more complex than any train map. In Paris, however, there is a route map within each bus, and all the stops are prominently named. Some buses even have illuminated indicators to show where you are, although it can be difficult to see these from wheelchair height however, especially if bus is crowded. The motion on a bus can be more uncertain than it is on a train, and there can be sudden acceleration and/or braking, as well as sharp changes in direction. This can be a hassle for many disabled walkers as well as for some chair users. Not all drivers wait until you have found a seat before accelerating away from the bus stop.

Paris has a good network of bus routes, and many of their buses are now wheelchair accessible. This means they are equipped with an extending ramp from the middle doors, leading to a space inside which can accommodate a chair. The Infomobi map shows the routes with the accessible buses.
Most solo chair users would find both buses and trains quite difficult (though certainly not impossible) to use, but with a companion, things become easier.

The space provided in the bus requires that the wheelchair user to sit facing backwards, resting against a tall padded support so that you don’t slide around if the bus brakes sharply. This space must be reversed into, and should be big enough to cope with most electric chairs.
There is a button on the outside of the bus, and another one inside by the wheelchair space. Press these to let the driver know that you want to use the ramp. AFTER you’ve pressed the button, the driver needs to close the doors before extending the ramp – so don’t be alarmed, and feel that the bus is going to drive off without you! For getting off, press the button well before your stop if you can. In some cases, the buttons were broken and we had to ask the driver to extend the ramp. Again, this can be difficult if the bus is crowded – but we found that most drivers and passengers were helpful, and messages were relayed to the driver.
If the kerb is too high, as we found quite often, the ramp will go back in before it is fully deployed, and thus the doors do not open. Sometimes, the driver can reposition the bus in order to open them, but again it may be difficult to contact her/him if the bus is crowded. In extreme cases, the ramp cannot be used if other vehicles are badly parked – and you may have to wait for the next bus, or even go on to the next stop.

During our survey we made more than twenty journeys on ‘wheelchair-accessible’ buses, all of which included a wheelchair user accompanied by one or more able-bodied friends. We found the ramp couldn’t be used in 25% of journeys because kerbs were either blocked by parked vehicles, or were too high. On four journeys, the buttons did not work reliably.

Note that Paris, in common with many other cities, has a pre-pay system for travelling. You need to get some Métro/bus tickets in advance and these should be available from a Tabac as well as Métro stations.

The Metro remains, basically, a ‘no go’ area for people with disabilities. Our view is that if you can cope with the stairs, long distances and difficult entrance and exit barriers, you don’t really need the help of an ‘access’ guide. There is, however one new line which IS accessible, with step free access from pavement to platform on these stations, and only a small step/gap to get into the train. It is Line 14, and goes from Bibliothéque François Mitterand via Bercy, Gare de Lyon, Chatelet, Pyramides, Madeleine to St Lazare. While all the platforms are in principle ‘accessible’ using lifts, there are some serious problems with the reliability of the lifts, and the speed (or lack of it) with which they may get repaired.

Part of the RER, IS usable by many people with disabilities, though with a few difficulties en route including the need to walk/wheel long distances. The list of stations in our old (1993) guide remains largely valid. The good news is that the access at many of the stations listed and described has got very much easier. At Chatelet-les-Halles, for example, instead of having to use the uninviting service lift described in 1993, all you have to do is to go to level -3 on the public lifts, and ask at one of the two enquiry desks for access to the RER. There are now public/semi-public lifts to take you down to the platforms. The RATP have installed a number of inclined passenger lifts on stations where there was space alongside the escalators. These provide step free access for both chair users and disabled walkers so that both steps and escalators are bypassed. The downside is that there are some major maintenance problems, and the new inclined lifts are not yet entirely reliable.
For disabled visitors with a sense of adventure, and for chair users with a strong friend to help get over the step or gap into the train carriage, the RER lines A and B (the more accessible ones) provide a fast and reliable method of transport.

Driving and parking

Driving in Paris is undoubtedly a bit hairy, and not recommended if you are of a nervous disposition or if you have no experience of big city driving. However, all you need is a little confidence and commonsense, and it’s not that difficult! Some of our survey teams drove themselves around both in conventional cars, and in an adapted accessible minibus. If you can cope with the driving, then having your own transport makes you much more mobile and flexible.

Having good maps, and a competent navigator is a great help. The use of an up-to-date SatNav system could also make the navigating much easier (although SatNav is not perfect, and there are security problems if you leave a portable one in sight). Bus and taxi lanes are generally well marked and it means that taxis in paricular can get around quickly, though it is virtually impossible to pull over to study a map! Another thing that can be slightly disconcerting is that sometimes the bus lane is the nearside right-hand lane, and then it can suddenly switch to being in the middle of the road.

The signage is pretty dire and is especially challenging at night because signs do not normally appear until you reach the road junction or roundabout – at which stage, you may be in the wrong lane ! Also, traffic lights at a junction only exist level with the stop line, and there are no duplicate lights in front of you on the far side of the junction, as is normally the case in the UK. The traffic lights in Paris are at two different heights, with lower level repeater lights which can usually be seen easily from the drivers seat in a car.

Using the routes along the river on the rive Gauche and rive Droite can simplify any navigating problems, so long as you know where to turn off. Also note that the signs for the boulevard Périphérique indicate a choice between ‘Intérieur’ and ‘Extérieur’. It depends whether you want to go clockwise, in which case you want the Intérieur, or to go anti-clockwise, in which case you need the Extérieur. It’s all to do with driving on the right, since the clockwise direction is always on the inside of the circle etc.

Parking in Paris has become much more widely regulated and controlled.Practically the whole area inside the boulevard Périphérique is a parking meter zone, with controls during the day. However, there are a good number of big CPs, mainly underground, and, for example, there are more than ten CPs on or very near the Champs-Elysées. Some have lift access back to the street. There is also quite a lot of meter parking at the roadside in controlled areas.

To pay for parking at a meter, you need to get a pre-paid card from a Tabac, and when you use this, appropriate amounts of money are deducted each time you park. You cannot put cash into the machines. This can cause a hassle when you first park. The machines only have instructions in French, whereas the UGCP machines have the option of language choice. UGCPs are increasingly only allowing access to people with valid CP tickets by using a swipe card reader to open doors or allow you to use the lift – or you have to key in a six-digit number which is printed on your ticket.

The Blue Badge (BB) parking scheme for disabled people is Europe-wide, but the local application of the rules is difficult to assess properly. Most BB spaces consist of just one space, and if that one is full it may be some way before your find another one!

There’s an excellent publication Parkings de Paris available from:
Com 3000, 21 rue Lamartine, 75009

Tel:01 45 26 59 74 Fax:01 45 26 59 75
e-mail: message@parkingparis.com
This book lists all the underground and overground car parks throughout the city, with good maps showing their exact location, and detailing the charges. They also say whether there are spaces specifically reserved for BB holders (ie for disabled people).Most of the CPs have a height limitation of around 1.9m which makes it difficult for those driving higher vehicles. The description in Parkings de Paris also says whether or not there is lift access up to the surface.

Taxis and adapted vehicles

Paris has more nearly 15,000 taxis. These are conventional cars, like those in New York, and are completely unlike the black cabs in London. In Paris, a wheelchair user would have to transfer into a car seat while the chair is folded and put in the boot/trunk. London’s black cabs are unusual, in that most are wheelchair accessible, although they aren’t the best design for everyone, particularly for some elderly people with arthritis.

Taxis can be hailed on the street, and there are a large number of cab ranks at major junctions, near tourist sites, and near many big RER and Métro stations. For two or three passengers travelling together, they can provide a not-too-expensive and efficient method of getting around, depending on the time of day. If you have come for a brief holiday or break, the time you save by using a taxi probably means that it is money well spent. As in every country, it is worth having a map in your hand, and knowing where you are going, as you are less likely to be ripped off. As in other big cities, taxis are far more difficult to find when it is raining, and during the commuter rush hours. However, the cab rank system does mean that you can join a queue of those seeking a taxi, and then you just have to be patient.

The only Taxi service we know of with adapted vehicles for chair users which is available ‘on call’ is:

Taxis G7 Horizon

rue Henri Barbusse 92110 Clichy
Tel: 01 47 39 00 91 (the dedicated line for adapted taxis, staffed 24/7)
Tel:01 47 39 47 39 (the main call centre number also staffed 24/7)
They have Tel: 01 41 27 66 99 which is a phone line where English is spoken and they should be able to get you an adapted vehicle.
website: www.taxis-g7.com
e-mail: service.clients@taxis-g7.com
G7 operates some 4500 of the conventional Paris taxis and provides a call centre for ordering a Radio Taxi.
G7 Horizon operating in parallel to the basic services have a number of taxi drivers who are used to carrying customers with a manual wheelchair which can be folded up and put in the boot. They also have a fleet of 12 ramped taxis where a customer can get in the cab in their electric wheelchair.
The information for disabled people on their website is slightly difficult to find, but you can do this via the site map. G7 Horizon say that you can call and order a taxi with ramped access and that you should only have to wait about 15-30 minutes.
Their office is just outside the bd Périphérique to the northwest.
Customer Services 22-28 rue Henri Barbusse, 92110 Clichy, Hauts-de-Seine
We used the G7 Horizon service, and phoned the ‘English-speaking’ number to make our booking. We asked them to ring back on our mobile number when they knew how long we would have to wait. The taxi that came was a people carrier which had an extending ramp and in which the seats could be folded back making space in the back. It was only possible to take a chair user and two companions, and the wheelchair space was quite cramped. There was only 100cm between the two rows of seats, and someone in a larger chair would have had to sit sideways on, possibly without restraints. The vehicle took about 45 minutes to get to the Musée d’Orsay, and arrived with €35 on the clock, so that the whole journey back to our hotel in the 20th cost €55. This compares with the fare in a conventional taxi of about €20.

In our research, we found a number of companies and organisations which can offer adapted and wheelchair accessible cars/taxis and minibuses. One can offer self-drive hire of adapted vehicles. In view of the limitations of public transport, these services may give some disabled people the chance of having easy and independent transport, to get to the places that they want to visit. Using such companies is not cheap, but choosing your accommodation to minimise the amount of travelling around you need to do and then selecting two of three ‘outings’ you might want to make should enable you to contain the expense. The cost for an individual journey is likely to be somewhere in the €50-100 region while to hire a vehicle for an 8-hour day is likely to cost something like €300-400.

We haven’t checked out all the companies by using their services, but we got them all to quote us for a vehicle to take a chair user and two friends on three journeys:

  1. from Charles de Gaulle airport to a central hotel;
  2. for a whole day outing to Fontainbleau; and
  3. for the journey from the central hotel to Orly airport.

We have also been to visit several of the companies to check the information provided.

We would have to say that our experience with trying to get quotes was quite mixed. The names we followed-up had been acquired from a number of sources, and in some cases had clearly been listed by people who had not checked what services the company could offer to a visitor.

We made our enquiries initially by e-mail, in English, and initially received only one reply! We then tried by e-mail in French, which improved the response rate a little – and we then rang up, first of all using English, and then using French. It took a lot of work to get a reasonable picture of what is on offer. One lesson from this (as we have said elsewhere) is NOT to rely on initial enquiries by e-mail, unless you get a quick response. Letters, faxes and/or a phone call are almost certainly a better way to communicate AND you may need to be persistent.

Note that some of the organisations who offer adapted transport exist primarily to provide for Parisiens in terms of taking disabled children to school and elderly people to day centres etc. This means that their ‘spare’ capacity for dealing with the needs of visitors is limited. You may well have more luck with these groups during the school holidays when many of their regular clients are not needing transport. On the other hand, the school holidays are also when many Parisiens take their breaks – especially in August.

Most of the companies or organisations listed here offer a variety of vehicles. These are:

  • adapted cars which will take one chair user in their chair and two or three friends;
  • minibuses with ramped or lift access which will accommodate two or three wheelchair users, with some other passengers as well;
  • larger buses with lift access for groups.

The other organisations all request that vehicles are booked in advance, and availability will depend on the time of year, and how much demand there is. Bookings can generally only be made during normal office hours.
Some will enable you to hire the vehicle for the day, with a driver/guide, and this may enable you to go to Versailles or Fontainbleau, or other places that are less easy to get to. A few companies offer the possibility of self-drive hire of the adapted vehicles, but this will not (generally) include hand controls.

The companies from whom we had the most positive replies are:

AETAS Services

141 blvd Mac Donald, 75019
Tel:01 30 53 69 97 Fax: 01 34 80 94 58
website: www.aetas.fr
e-mail: aetas-france@wanadoo.fr
Has adapted people carriers and minibuses with 1 to 8 seats/spaces, including accommodation for up to four chair users. Taxi services and tailor-made sightseeing tours. Their quote for single journeys (for example to and from the airports) was competitive.
Aetas responded to our quotation request at the second attempt, and were very apologetic for having missed the first one. Their reply was in English. Later we booked a journey in an accessible minibus from the Gare du Nord to our hotel, using e-mail and English – and they provided an excellent service.

Les Coccinelles

8 allée du Parc de Garlande, 92220 Bagneux, Hauts-de-Seine
Tel: 01 57 63 92 60 Fax: 01 57 63 92 96
e-mail: christine.gestamb@wanadoo.fr
Bagneux is some 3km south of the Porte de Chatillon on the blvd Périphérique. In 2006 they did not have a website, but we were told that one is under construction. They have about 35 adapted taxis including seven that will take an electric wheelchair. They have adapted minibuses which can take between one and five passengers in wheelchairs. Prices from 42€/h TTC (all taxes included), but the overall cost depends on where and when you want to travel. In order to get a quote from this company, we needed to phone in French, and the quotation was sent in French, but we were told that queries in English would now be answered in English.

Navette Service

4 rue François Mitterrand, Bouffemont 95570
Tel:01 39 35 09 31 Fax:01 39 35 98 24
website: www.navette-service.com
e-mail: info@navette-service.com
The office is some 20km north of Paris just off the N1 autoroute north of Sarcelles.
Has five vehicles which can take one to four wheelchairs and three other passengers. They confusingly have an old website navetteservice where the English side does not work, and a new site where it does!
They provide services seven days a week.
The price from CDG Airport-Paris is about 90 €.

Ptitcar

27-29 rue Raffet,75016
Tel: 01 42 24 70 73 Fax: 08 25 18 77 56
website: www.ptitcar.com
e-mail: contact@ptitcar.com
Offers top-of-the-range adapted vehicles for a chair user and up to four other passengers. Can provide a simple taxi service, or chaffeur-driven hire for shopping or excursions.
Ptitcar were the ones who replied to our initial e-mail, with a quotation for the journeys requested. They also publish their tariff on their website, although using our browser we were unable to access to English ‘button’ on the home page.
Ptitcar can offer the hire of a self-drive adapted vehicle (though only for a disabled passenger, and not a vehicle with hand controls).

Taxi Ulysse

116 rue de Charenton, 75012
Tel: 01 44 67 80 69 Fax: 01 44 67 81 77
website: www.ulysse-transport.fr
e-mail: paris@ulysse-transport.fr
English speaking information and drivers, and there is an English version of the website.
Has 5 taxis (Renault Kangoo) which can take one electric wheelchair and about 5 taxis for 9 passengers and up to 4 electric wheelchairs. Each uses a ramp.
Taxi Ulysse offers taxi services like this all over France although its main office is in Nice. Operations in other areas are under separate franchises. It was founded in 1996 by Franck Vialle who had been involved in a serious accident and was left tetraplegic. Their quotation for the three specified journeys was slightly more expensive than the others.

Services which seem to be primarily for Paris residents, based around social service requirements and bussing children to and from school are listed below.They may be able to provide transport, possibly at a reasonable cost, but are not always available, and we had quite some difficulty in getting replies to our request for a quoatation. Some only operate on weekdays from 09.00 to 17.00.

AIHROP

3 ave Paul Doumer, 92508 Rueil Malmaison
Tel: 01 41 29 01 29 Fax: 01 41 29 01 27
Has about 20 accessible vehicles. When we requested a quotation for the three journeys they were unable to provide it, however we know of other people who have successfully used AIHROP services.

ASAH

4 rue Charcot, 75013
Tel: 01 42 03 61 67 Fax:01 42 02 37 91
website: www.asah75.org
e-mail: asah@asah75.org
Has a number of different vehicles for 1-4 wheelchair places and 3-8 seats. Again, we were unable to get a quotation.

GIHP Ile de France (Groupement Insertion Personnes Handicapées Phisiques)

32, rue de Paradis, 75010
Tel: 01 60 77 20 20 Fax: 01 60 77 07 12
Has about 30 adapted taxis (all different kinds) including minibuses for 8 passengers or 5 wheelchairs + 3 persons. We tried to make a reservation, but we were told that they don’t work on Saturdays. Their website says that they offer a service to and from the airports on a 7 day-a-week basis between 07.00 and 23.00. It also says that some services can be provided for visitors. During the week an airport shuttle costs approximately €60.

There are two organsiations who are listed in various places as being able to provide adapted/accessible transport with whom we failed to make contact – in spite of sending and resending e-mails, and leaving messages on voicemail. These were:

  • Handi Transports, 118/130 ave Jean Jaurès, 75019,
    Tel: 01 40 40 97 72 Fax: 01 40 40 97 72;
    website: www.geocities.com/handitransport
  • PMR Transport, 20 rue Gambetta, 92500 Rueil-Malmaison, Hauts-de-SeineTel: 01 34 46 27 47

and we think that this is primarily because their purpose, as mentioned above, is to provide services for Paris residents.

When we made contact with Lynx Transports who are listed in ParisInfo, they clearly didn’t want to know (about our request, anyway), so we have not included their details.