Are the frustrations and joys of New York’s subway unique to my home city? A summer criss-crossing Paris in its metro answered my question.

As a New Yorker, I am familiar with the dirt and delays that can define a commuter’s experience in a city where 5.4 million people ride the subway on the average weekday.

Questionable smells. Weird noises from the headphones of the person sitting next to you. Possibly more rats on the platforms than humans. The joys of the New York City subway.

But how does New York’s public transportation compare to those in other bustling metropolises?

As an intern at News-Decoder this summer, I was able to explore the underground hustle and bustle of another city.

The Paris metro, with 300 stations and 16 metro lines, is used by approximately 4.5 million people to traverse the city daily.

Over the course of six weeks, I joined this group. And while I didn’t see many rats, I saw a good deal of construction. As one of the 700,000 daily commuters on Line 4, I witnessed the on-going process of automating the second-busiest line in Paris — a step in a larger, long-term plan by the French government to remake the capital.

Paris subway, like others, connects people.

The construction I witnessed on my daily commutes reflected ambitious efforts to bind the more wealthy city center more tightly with surrounding suburbs, where violent riots erupted in 2005.

In 2009, then President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the ambitious face-lift to Europe’s fourth oldest metro system. “What I’m proposing is certainly ambitious and difficult,” Sarkozy said. “It’s about preparing for the future.”

For the French government, “preparing for the future” has meant about 35 billion euros invested in re-connecting intra-muros Paris with the surrounding banlieues (suburbs).

The hope is that better transport links will reduce some of the inequities dividing the center of Paris — small compared to New York or London, for example — and the suburbs.

In an effort to deconstruct my personal experiences as a commuter in two sprawling transportation systems, I was challenged to think about cities themselves as rich melting pots. The video below captures some of these experiences.

Behind the inconveniences of dirt and delays, I saw that public transportation systems have great value in connecting city residents from all walks of life. When people from different areas of a city are able to use the same resource, entrenched psychological and physical barriers are challenged.

When stacked up against this bigger picture, delays seem like a small price to pay for greater social harmony in the future.


  1. How many people ride New York’s subway on the average weekday?
  2. Why is there currently so much construction on Paris’s metro system?
  3. What are the key strengths and weaknesses of the public transit system in your city or town?

Amari Leigh was News-Decoder’s 2019 summer intern. Born and raised in New York City, Leigh has lived in Brazil, France and Portugal. She enjoys theater, learning languages and exploring new cities.

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CultureWatch: Comparing Paris’s metro to NYC’s subway
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