Thursday, 4 July 2013

Egalité on the Tramway

Picture from
If you ever need to travel on the eastern side of Paris, you might have the opportunity to take the new tramway, the T3, that skirts around the city just inside of the Périphérique, from the Porte de la Chapelle in the north to the Pont de Garigliano in the south-west. The tramway is designed to solve the century-old problem of the métro system: if you want to go into the middle of town, the metro is perfect, but if you are travelling between two outlying arrondisements, it takes forever.

The tram is lovely. It's clean and modern and slides almost silently along its rails. (Some days I love the racket of the metro too, but it's hard to listen to music on board!) While it feels slow, I think it actually travels about the same speed as the metro, with stops being 1 or 2 minutes apart. Even better, though, is its accessibility. The doors are at the same level as the platforms, making it useable for wheelchair users, the infirm and parents with buggies. It really is a form of transport for everyone. (Well, apart from those who live on the western side of town, where apparently the UMP councillors were unwilling to finance the project.)

One of my geeky pastimes on public transport is to look at the names of the stations and see how many famous people I can identify. If you look at the list of stops on the T3, you might be surprised, as I was, to see how many of them are named after women. Have you heard of Colette Besson,  Maryse Bastié, or Alexandra David-Néel? I wondered if, as on the metro, they were named after the streets they crossed, and therefore this was just chance, or if there was a reason behind it and, my curiosity piqued, I did some research and found this article. It turns out that not only was naming the tram stops in this way a conscious step towards balancing out the fact that of 302 metro stations, only 3 of them are named after women, but that reaching an agreement to do so was something of a battle.

To answer the question above, Colette Besson was an Olympic athlete, Maryse Bastié was an aviator and resistant who also fought for women's rights and Alexandra David-Néel was an explorer and the first western woman to enter the city of Lhassa in Tibet. Next time you travel in Paris, why not take the tramway, and see how many of the others you can recognise?


  1. Very interesting post! I hadn't ever really thought about how skewed the naming of stations, streets, etc. is in favor of males. Wish I could have been a fly on the wall and heard the arguments against naming the tram stops after women!

  2. I know! I also found out after I wrote this that of the 3 metro stops, two are women with men and only one is a woman's name all on her own. I thought it was really cool how they chose such interesting people from a really wide range of files and backgrounds for the trams too.