Mind the Gap or The RER is NOT Accessible

by tiresomemoi

Two steps downRER

A friend once told me that a French vegetarian is a carnivore who also eats vegetables. Keeping with that line of reasoning, the Paris RER is wheelchair accessible if you can walk and don’t need a wheelchair.

Last week, friends from Bruxelles were visiting and wanted to see Versailles*. I’d been once before so I knew it was relatively accessible but we still had to get there. The Versailles website recommends the RER C** so I pulled up Paris by Train, navigated to the appropriate map and, yippee yahoo, Versailles-Rive Gauche was marked as accessible. I backtracked until I came to the closet stop to my house, Boulevard Victor, and we were good to go.

On a wet Tuesday afternoon we headed out deciding to splurge on a taxi to the RER station. As indicated, the station was accessible. An RER employee helped us with our tickets as the automated kiosk was not as intuitive as it could have been. Our train was delayed so I had time to read the signage on the platform. We would be riding Vic. I wondered about the other trains: Kuma and Kama and Sara. When the train arrived it was clear that not all of the cars were accessible so we went form car to car looking for the accessible one. Realizing we didn’t have time to cover the length of the train, my friends grabbed hold of my wheelchair and hauled me up the two steps on to the train. Once on the train I was trapped on a little platform between two seating areas. There were stairs up to one and down to the other. Ever optimistic, I figured we’d been in the wrong spot and that when we arrived at our destination we’d find the appropriate car so we’d be prepared for the return journey.

When we arrived we strolled the length of the train looking for the accessible car, but all the cars were the same. Again, assuming we’d missed something we found an RER employee and asked her where the accessible car was. Oh no, she said, there’s no accessible car. But, we said, the map shows that this stop is accessible. Yes, she said, the station is accessible but the trains are not. If we’re not busy we’ll help you on and off the train. But not now, look at all these people!

If 2:00 pm on a rainy Tuesday isn’t a slow time I’m pretty sure there isn’t a slow time. We headed off to Versailles shaking our heads.

On the return trip my fiends once again lugged me up the steps and we again wondered if we’d missed something. Maybe Vic wasn’t accessible but perhaps Sara was? Arriving back at Boulevard Victor we were met with not just the steps down but a 7ish” gap. Let’s just say I wished I’d closed my eyes.

Because it seemed not quite possible that the powers that be would mark stops as accessible solely because a wheelchair could enter and exit the station, I emailed an expert on wheelchair travel in France and asked her if she could shed light on the situation. Perhaps I’d missed something? Yes, I had. You’re supposed to make a reservation 24 in advance!***

So, the RER gets an F for access and an F for effort. I’m disappointed the trains aren’t accessible but I’m disgusted that someone thought accessible stations without an accessible train could possibly be considered accessible. That is to say, I can get over the trains not being accessible but don’t tell me they are when they’re not. I understand making reservations for trains with strict schedules and relatively long stops but not for a train that stops at most for a few seconds at each station. I hope whoever is responsible for this misguided thinking has a personal reckoning and makes a public apology after removing all trace of their egregious error.


*I’ll write about Versailles in a later post.

**I’ve only attempted to travel on the C line so the other lines may indeed be accessible.

***The emails from my tireless expert make for sadly amusing reading.

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 1:55 PM

I have contacted the Assistance (Access + service for the rail company) who has directed me towards “Accès Transilien”. Despite phoning them quite a lot in between yesterday afternoon and this morning to try and obtain information, nobody seems to be wanting to pick up the phone and I get cut off after a while.

This is the number I was given to obtain access to the RER type trains for reduced mobility guests: 0810 767 433.

However, I have found the link to their information site http://www.transilien.com/static/PMR/pmr

If you look at the second white box on the left of the screen, ACCÈS PLUS SNCF TRANSILIEN, and click on the green arrow and / or PDF doc in that box, it does detail the stations where you can get assistance and Versailles Chateaux is indeed one of them.

However, you need to book your assistance prior to traveling (up to 20h00 on the evening prior to your trip actually) so that they can assist and provide you with a ramp to access the trains.

I am more than happy to carry on trying to get hold of them so that they can confirm this. However, if they do not answer the phone (and the lines are supposed to be open from 7 AM to 8 PM!), I am not too sure how they expect you to book your assistance! But let’s just keep trying! We’ll get there in the end I’m sure!

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 11:15 PM

I would have to agree with you on the RER issue… This is not an “accessible” service if it has to be scheduled as a military operation! Welcome to France! Dear me! Anyway, despite another 3 calls this PM, I still have not managed to talk to anybody so, I don’t know how on earth they expect you to book anything 24 hrs ahead of traveling!