Buses & Trams in France

What you should know

There’s a nationwide campaign in France for ‘car-free’ cities, and there are excellent bus services in Paris and other major cities, and many also have tram or trolley bus systems, including Bordeaux, Caen, Lyon, Le Mans, Montpellier, Nancy, Nantes, Nice, Orléans, Rouen, Strasbourg, Toulon and Valenciennes.

The town of Châteauroux (in Indre) recently became the first in France to offer free bus travel in order to persuade citizens to abandon their cars, and in Lille commuters are offered half-price bus travel. However, in rural areas, buses are few and far between, and the scant services that exist are usually designed to meet the needs of schoolchildren, workers, and shoppers on market days.

This means that buses usually run early and late in the day with little or nothing in between, and may cease altogether during the long summer school holiday period (July and August). Note that a city bus is generally called an autobus and a country bus a car or autocar. Smoking isn’t permitted on buses in France.

The best place to enquire about bus services is at a tourist office or railway station. In large towns and cities, buses run to and from bus stations ( gare d’autobus/routière), which are usually next to railway stations. In rural areas, bus services are often operated by the SNCF and operate to and from a railway station. An SNCF bus, on which rail tickets and passes are valid, is shown as an autocar in rail timetables.

The SNCF also provides bus tours throughout France. Private bus services are often confusing and uncoordinated and usually leave from different locations rather than a central bus station. Some towns provide free or discount bus passes to senior citizens (over 60) on production of an identity card, passport, or carte de séjour and proof of local residence.

There are no national bus companies in France operating scheduled services, although many long-distance buses are operated by foreign companies such as Euroways/Eurolines, Riviera Express, Europabus, Miracle Bus and Grey-Green Coaches. Eurolines (www.eurolines.com 
or www.eurolines.fr ) operates regular services from the UK to over 50 French cities, including Bordeaux, Cannes, Lyon, Montpellier, Nice, Orléans, Paris, Perpignan, Reims, Saint-Malo and Strasbourg. Discounts are available to students and young people on some routes.

Bus and coach passengers are required by law to wear seatbelts if they’re fitted. Failure to do so renders you liable for a €135 fine.


Paris has over 112km (70mi) of bus lanes, so buses move at a reasonable speed, although they’re inevitably slower during rush hours and always slower than the métro (but you see more of the city from a bus). Operating hours vary, although buses are in service on most routes from 07.00 or 07.30 to between 20.30 and 21.00. On main routes, evening buses ( autobus du soir) run until at least midnight.

From Mondays to Saturdays there’s a 10- to 15-minute service during peak hours, and a reduced service after 20.30. On Sundays and public holidays, services are severely restricted on most routes. Night buses (‘ Noctambus’) provide a one-hour service on ten routes (a night bus map is available from métro stations).

As with the métro, a ticket for a single journey costs €1.40 and ten tickets, called a carnet, cost €10.70. The métro and buses use the same ticket. A ticket is valid for two sections or fare stages, marked fin de section at stops. Two tickets are needed for trips encompassing three fare stages and up to four tickets for trips to the suburbs (or six or seven if you’re going from one side of Paris to the other – in which case you’re far better off using the underground).

Paris bus stops (many of which have shelters) are indicated by a post with red and yellow panels marked with the name of the stop (e.g. a street or corner), as shown on route plans. Each stop displays the numbers of the buses stopping there, a map showing all stops along the route(s), and the times of the first and last buses. Most stops display a full timetable.

The route number and destination is displayed on the front of buses and the route on the sides. Route maps are also displayed inside buses, and stops may be announced as they’re approached. There are numerous private sight-seeing bus tours in Paris, although it’s much cheaper to use scheduled RATP buses (the RATP recommends certain routes for sightseers) or an RATP excursion bus.

To stop a bus, you must signal to the driver by waving your arm. On boarding a bus you must stamp ( composter) your ticket by inserting it in the stamping machine ( composteur) next to the driver. A ticket inspector ( contrôleur) may ask to see your ticket and, if it isn’t stamped, you will be fined. If you have a Carte Orange or other pass valid on Paris buses, show it to the driver as you board. When you want a bus to stop, you signal to the driver by pressing a button or pulling a cord. A ‘stop requested’ ( arrêt demandé) sign will light up above the driver. Buses usually have separate entrance ( montée) and exit ( sortie) doors.

Free bus route maps are available at bus terminals, métro stations, tourist offices and RATP offices as well as on the RATP website (www.ratp.fr ). Printed maps include the Petit Plan de Paris, Grand Plan de Paris, Grand Plan d’Ile-de-France and area maps. The RATP also publishes Paris Patchwork, a pocket-size guide filled with bus route maps and useful information, available free from RATP offices and métro stations. Many bus guides are available from bookshops, including Plan de Paris par Arrondissements, containing detailed diagrams of all bus routes, and Guide Paris Autobus (Ponchet Plan Net).

This article is an extract from Living and working in France. Click here to get a copy now.

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