Beyond its primary function, the metro ticket will have served for everything, as a bookmark, a reminder, a wedge, even a filter for rolling joints.
“It’s a piece of our daily life, it speaks to everyone”, explains to AFP Grégoire Thonnat, ticket collector and author of a “Little history of the Parisian metro ticket”, with him “it’s a part of our life that is disappearing”.
“The metro ticket is one of the components of Parisian imagery,” he insists.
He even gave his name to a type of pubic hair removal, the shape of which is reminiscent of this rectangle of cardboard measuring 6.5 cm by 3, with a central magnetic strip.
Ile-de-France Mobilités (IDFM), the public establishment which manages the transport system in the Paris region, initially aimed to abolish the ten-ticket booklet in mid-2020 and then the single ticket in 2021, in favor of digital alternatives.
But he had to push back those deadlines to 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic, then again because of the shortage of microchips caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We were in a hurry, but this smart card crisis has slowed us down a bit,” admits IDFM managing director Laurent Probst.
The operator began several years ago to reduce the number of stations in which it is possible to buy a booklet and many turnstiles no longer read cardboard tickets.
Result: the proportion of paper tickets in journeys has fallen from more than two thirds a year ago to less than half, even if some 550 million are still sold a year, which represents more than 50 tons of paper.
“Habits are forming”, welcomes Laurent Probst, assuring that the books will have completely disappeared during 2023. Ile-de-France Mobilités argues in particular that on a book, 1 ticket out of 10 on average is not used because lost, damaged or forgotten.
But single tickets should continue to circulate at least until 2024.
This dematerialization with the use of smartphones at the turnstile, in the coming weeks for Android and in 2023 for Apple devices, is taking place in Paris twenty years after the withdrawal of metal tokens from the New York subway and more than ten years after that of the London Underground.
But some appreciate that the French capital has taken its time.
“I like the texture, the cleanliness of the ticket when it’s new, and how you can destroy it and still have it,” says Sarah Sturman, an Italian-American artist based in Paris who uses metro tickets in his collages.
“I will continue to collect metro tickets until they are gone and then they will be even more valuable,” she adds.
– “Irrational” attachment –
The metro ticket occupies a special place in post-World War II French popular culture.
Thus, in the film “The Wages of Fear” (1953), Yves Montand offers Charles Vanel as a token of friendship, his lucky charm, a Paris metro ticket, and the song by Serge Gainsbourg “Le poinçonneur des Lilas ” (1959) pays homage to an obscure profession, condemned to obsolescence by the arrival of automatic turnstiles a decade later.
“Its lifespan is very short, one hour, one hour 30, but we get attached to it, that’s it, it’s irrational”, observes Grégoire Thonnat.
Many visitors, on the other hand, say they are impatient to be able to do without the complications of the ticket offices of the Paris metro.
“I don’t like paper tickets, I want everything on my phone,” says Javier Romani, a Spanish tourist.
Stefania Grigoriadou, a Greek tourist, also prefers to book online, but intends to keep the ticket purchased to go to Disneyland Paris.
“It’s good to have it as a souvenir,” she told AFP. “Maybe we won’t come back to Paris, that way we’ll have something to show our kids later.”