Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Parisian Public Transport with a Baby

When we lived in the centre of Paris, I quickly figured out that the easiest way to get around with a baby was to use a sling or baby carrier. Shops are narrow, pavements are busy, and accessing the metro almost always requires you to go up or down some stairs. Any time I took the pram, I felt encumbered and awkward, while with the carrier, I was light of foot and free, with the added bonus of permanent baby cuddles, better baby napping and no screaming fits on public transport.

SCB is bigger now though, and too heavy to carry for long on my front. Our Manduca carrier can also be used on your back, but it's not as good for napping because the baby's head isn't supported, so we now use the buggy more of the time.

It's been quite a learning experience. Our buggy is fairly lightweight, but it's not tiny, as we bought it when SCB was 3 months old and still needed one with a lying down position. (Tiny lie-flat buggies do exist, but they cost a LOT of money. With hindsight, if we were still living in Paris, I would say it would be a worthwhile investment though.) I can carry buggy + baby up a flight of stairs if needed, but together they weigh 16 kilos, so I would rather not! The buggy won't fit through the standard entrances in the metro, and as SCB can't stand by herself yet, I can't really take her out, fold the buggy and get us all through. It is possible to put in on an escalator, but you're not supposed to, and it never feels very safe.

So here is what I've learned about Parisian public transport when you need to bring your wheels:

- 90% of the RER A and B are pushchair and wheelchair accessible, with lifts from street to platform level and wide gates in the stations. You have to know where to find the lifts though - at La Défense, for example, you practically have to walk off the platform and into the tunnel, following a very discreet sign. Also, the lifts are frequently under maintenance, and there is only one at each station.

- The metro is very hit or miss. As well as surprising mini flights of stairs even in stations which have some lifts, there are lines where some stations have wide gates and others don't. Only the line 14, as far as I know, is completely accessible.

- Most (maybe all) buses have a buggy space next to the wheelchair area. This works well as long as there isn't another buggy already occupying the place (which there might well be, as none of them are on the metro!). Also, these spaces aren't big enough for some prams, as I found out to my cost early in my career as a Parisian maman , when I attempted an unplanned bus journey with a Maxi-Cosy car seat attachment.

- The tramway is by far the easiest form of transport to use, as everything is at street level and there's loads of space in the carriages. It's great if you need to go somewhere around the edges of the city.

So, it can all be a bit unpredictable. Every time I go into the city centre now, I think about people in wheelchairs and how on earth they cope. If everything worked the way it was supposed to, you could probably plan a way of getting most places, but I don't know what would happen if you got off the train at a station only to find that the lift was out of order. I believe there is an interphone system that people in wheelchairs can use to ask for help - I really hope it works! (There is more information about public transport for wheelchair users here.)

On the plus side, in my experience, people are really nice about offering to help you. The other week I was at Nation and all the lifts AND the escalators were closed, but a nice man waited at every flight of stairs between street level and the RER platform to give me a hand.


  1. Good on you for dealing with public transportation, though I guess you don't have much of a choice. Poitiers public transport is so irregular that it would stress me out endlessly to use it with the baby. When he's older I hope to take the bus places to show him how it works. Back when I used to take the bus everywhere there were definitely all sorts of moms with strollers on it though.

  2. I think it was the first question I asked my first friend who had a kid a couple of years before me. "Comment tu fais dans le métro???" She used to carry her daughter in a scarf/baby wrap, worked fine for her at first.

    I did that too with Mark for a while, but we also took public transit with the stroller a lot. Now it's not an issue anymore because he can perfectly get off and walk while we carry/fold the stroller but I remember cursing stairs when he was young, especially in Beijing/Shenyang.

  3. Nightmare. I can't wait to be able to get a super lightweight buggy! Ida still sits in her car seat and it clicks into the buggy and makes it feel super heavy!

  4. There are definitely many awkward and difficult months before they can walk very well, but are too big for a carrier. We have a Babyzen Yoyo which is one of the lightest/easiest to fold, so I did lots of taking him out and folding it on crowded buses for awhile. I feel like trying to go anywhere from first steps until 18 months is tricky, so hang in there!