Sunday, November 01, 2015

BUS STORY # 469 (Part Four: Le Bus!)

The soixante-trois. Photo by Busboy.

Previous posts in this series:
Part One (Paris 2015)
Part Two (The Arrival)
Part Three (The Metro)


I’d used Google Maps to plot all our destinations. We were already in Paris when I realized that selecting the bus icon gave only the metro routes. I had to go to the RAPT website to find a trip planner using the buses and trams.

The RAPT Group is the Paris public transportation system. (The initials, translated into English, stand for Autonomous Operators of Parisian Transports.) It includes the Metro, the buses and trams, part of the regional railroad system (RER -- the train we took from the airport into Paris), and a curious little operation called the Montmartre Funicular which, had time permitted, would have been fun to check out. (It reminds me of Pittsburg’s Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines. A good friend took us on the Monongahela climb back in 2013 -- and has probably been waiting for a bus story featuring this unique and historical bit of public transportation ever since.)

The Monongahela Incline. Photo by Busboy.

One soggy Saturday, we took the bus to three different locations. We made a total of eight transfers, and I don’t believe we waited for more than ten minutes for any of them. (Yes, the metro is even more frequent, and faster, and on a wet day, drier, but your destinations often require a much longer walk from your arrival point. Moreover, the bus runs above ground. We saw more of Paris on the bus.)

The good news is there are a lot of bus routes and a lot of buses on each route, and the stops put us very close to all our destinations. More good news: if you know your stop, the signage is excellent. Not only is the current stop displayed, but the name of your current stop alternates with the name of the next stop. Since we knew the stops we wanted, the system worked perfectly for us.

Photo by Busboy.

The bad news is that, although RAPT has a good route planner,* it proved difficult to know exactly where the bus stop for the transfer bus was. On two occasions, it was a good half-block away from our stop. I finally learned to ask the driver where the stop for the transfer bus number was -- when I knew how to say the number in French. (I should have put more time in on numbers.) Most of the drivers spoke a little English. All were good at pointing.

I knew enough to ask before boarding if this was the bus to the [insert-name-of-stop-here]. This saved us from going the wrong direction twice.

The buses were crowded! Standing room only everywhere we went, although we usually got a seat after the next or second-next stop.

Mid-morning, the rain turned from picturesque to oppressive. We ended up sodden to the skin despite umbrella and hooded rain jacket. During one transfer, I inserted my soggy ticket into the machine and “broke the bus.” All the electrical system went out. The driver restored most of the signage, but the ticket machine stayed down. It wasn’t until we transferred to the next bus that we realized it wasn’t me; either the rain or wet tickets or some central system malfunction had shut down the ticket machines on the other buses as well. The driver was letting anyone with a stub in hand board the bus and ride.

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* The RAPT trip planer does not have a scheduling option using arrival time. If you need to be somewhere by a certain time, you have to play with the departure times to get what you need. It’s a curious omission.


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