Chaos in Paris as metro workers go on strike

Updated September 14, 2019


PARIS: People ride bicycles past a traffic jam near the banks of the Seine river on Friday. — AFP
PARIS: People ride bicycles past a traffic jam near the banks of the Seine river on Friday. — AFP

PARIS: Paris metro workers walked off the job on Friday in the first major protest against a looming pension system overhaul, snarling traffic as people scrambled to find alternative means for getting around.

Ten of the city’s 16 metro lines were shut down completely, while service on most others was “extremely disrupted”, the city’s RATP transit operator said.

Two of the three main suburban lines that traverse the city were also severely disrupted, as were most bus and tram services, leading to long lines of exasperated commuters.

Streets were clogged as people used their cars or booked taxis, while others sought out ride-hailing companies — many of which were charging up to four times their normal rates, according to a rash of angry Twitter postings.

Others used bicycles or the electric scooters that have flooded the French capital in recent months, prompting a surge in traffic on the city’s burgeoning network of cycle paths.

Paris transit operator RATP was trying to ease the pain by promoting a plethora of special deals from ride-hailing firms as well self-service bike, moped and scooter providers.

Verena, a woman using one of the city’s Velib bike-sharing system, said she had signed up for the service the day before the strike.

“I was very lucky, I found one, I had expected to walk for an hour this morning,” she said.

But others, not least tourists, weren’t so lucky. “We’re trying to go to the Jardin des Plantes (garden), but we’re having trouble figuring out which lines are actually working,” a British man who gave his name as Tim said.

But with other workers taking the day off to avoid the gridlock, the situation was not as chaotic as many had feared.

“Lots of my colleagues organised things so they could stay home. For example we had a meeting today that we pushed back to next week,” said Gwenn, a 39-year-old financial controller, at the Bastille station.

But further hassles appeared likely later, with the RATP warning that all metro lines would stop running at 8pm, except for the network’s two fully autonomous lines.

The strike is the first major protest against Presi­dent Emmanuel Macron’s plan to implement a universal pension system that wou­ld do away with the more advantageous plans enjoyed by workers in state transport and utility companies.

Other professions that have special schemes include sailors, solicitors and Paris Opera workers.

“We have to tell the French the truth... We are going to have to work lon­g­er,” Prime Minister Edou­ard Philippe said on French television on Thursday.

“We’re going to do this gradually, but we’re going to do it.”

But metro workers say the reforms would force them to work longer by removing their long-held rights to early retirement, secured decades ago to compensate for spending long hours underground.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2019