Hang on to that Paris Metro ticket! Seriously!
The Rick Steves’ website on the Paris Metro, https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/le-metro-de-paris, makes brief mention of the need to hang on to your ticket after you have entered the system: “Be warned that fare inspectors regularly check for cheaters and accept absolutely no excuses — keep that ticket or pay a minimum fine of €45.”
What is actually true right now is that Metro officials are targeting tourists who may well have discarded their tickets. Our group of seven family members experienced this so-called “checking for cheaters” first-hand, and it almost ruined our 10-day visit to France. I’ll tell the story but I want to make clear at the top that Paris Metro police are selectively and arbitrarily enforcing a law that only tourists are likely to misunderstand. Such selective enforcement would never fly in the States. The ultimate lesson: Do not under any circumstances discard an individual used Metro ticket until you have completely exited the system for that complete trip.
On our first two days in Paris we each used a two-day pass. For the next two days we opted to go with the carnet system, which is a pack of 10 individual tickets. This worked well until our last transfer to our last stop—switching from the No. 12 train to the No. 1 at Concorde. Having blithely discarded our tickets after entering the system, we were met at the boarding area for the No. 1 train by a quartet of Metro officials who stopped all seven of us and demanded to see our used tickets. Six of us had discarded them, and we were told the penalty was 50 euros, reduced to 35 if we were in possession of a new unused ticket, which we had.
We were soon joined by another American family—a couple and their daughter—who had been grabbed just down the corridor as they planned to exit the system. We all possessed new valid tickets and were prepared to give up another ticket as a replacement for the missing old ones, but this was not accepted. The only option offered was the fine of 35 euros.
The husband of the other couple called the American embassy but was told this was a local enforcement issue. Our Metro agents were joined by Metro “police,” a ragged band who claimed to speak no English except to say, “Passport? Passport?”
We paid our fine, which was reduced by a couple of passers-by, who slipped us their used tickets and whispered, “This happened to us yesterday.”
I feel most sorry for the other couple. The husband protested, calmly and professionally, but I turned around to see the police trying to reach into his backpack and twisting his arm behind his back when he objected. His wife left the scene in tears, and I know for certain any joy of their trip was wiped away.
A young woman at the Louvre—one of the roaming agents providing visitor information—volunteered that folks in Paris see this enforcement as an effort to help raise money for Metro expansion into the Paris suburbs.
These are not simple quiet stops. If you turn as though you are walking away, you find yourself being grabbed or facing someone who has lunged in front of you. If you raise your camera as though to photograph anyone, you have two or three faces inches from yours, shouting, “No! Police evidence!” meaning, I guess, that they are threatening to confiscate equipment. It is intimidating and unfolds in such a way that it takes many minutes to even figure out what they are accusing you of.
I strongly urge the mangers of the Rick Steves’ website on the Paris Metro to strengthen the warning on keeping that ticket. Yes, you could say we didn’t know the law and we paid the price, but my point is that the Paris Metro is selectively enforcing the law on those most unlikely to know it, period. It’s the French version of a speed trap, and my wish is that every Paris Metro official may one day drive through Rosendale, Wis. We weren’t “cheaters;” we were selected victims, pure and simple.