Oct 27th, 2020, 09:11 PM

Students Face Anxiety Taking the Paris Metro

By Rebecca Le Goff
Image Credit: Unsplash/Davyn Ben
The French government has set in place rules and guidelines for the safety of all citizens, but this is not enough for some students.

Many students at AUP feel uneasy about taking the metro during the coronavirus pandemic despite government-imposed safety regulations. The metro in the French capital city is by far the most popular method of daily transportation, with more than 4.6 billion annual journeys made in 2019. Since COVID-19 hit Paris, the French government has set many safety measures in place to reduce the risk of riders contracting the disease, including obligatory masks and social distancing on public transportation. But many students who use the metro to get to campus every day don’t believe these are enough to effectively reduce the second-wave of the virus.

“I am constantly sanitizing my hands when having to open metro doors or touch the poles, and when the metro gets crowded, I definitely feel anxious and debate getting off,” says Caelin Paterson, a senior majoring in Psychology. With the combination of the large crowds and the confined spaces of the metro, students like Paterson feel like this form of transport is unsafe. "The pandemic has definitely made me more aware of my surroundings, and I think about it a lot when I take the metro or bus,” Paterson says. When riding the metro, simple actions like holding the pole for balance, using the buttons and latches to release the doors and using the folding seats only remind students of the thousands of other people who have used them too. Paterson says she washes her hands several times after getting home but “it still doesn’t feel like enough.”

Parisian metro rider. Image Credit: Unsplash/Thomas de Luze

Before the pandemic, students used the metro much more often. Leila Roker, a senior majoring in Journalism, took the metro around four times a week before the disease spread globally. Since she lived close to campus, she didn't need to take the metro as often as many other AUP students, who have to use it daily to get to classes. Ariane Petit, a junior majoring in Global Communication, said she used to take the metro every day and sometimes several times a day. Now that the pandemic is entering its second-wave of infections, students are less inclined to use public transportation for fear of catching the virus. "Before the pandemic, I saw the metro as a dirty place so with the virus it’s even worse now,” said Petit.

But because all first-year AUP students are required to purchase a year-long subscription to the Navigo metro pass, some students feel obligated to still use the metro simply because they have already paid for the service. Caelin has a Navigo in her fourth year at AUP and claimed it does influence how often she takes the metro.

AUP student Isaac Bates in Paris. Image Credit: Isaac Bates

Regardless of how often students at AUP use public transportation, most have expressed feeling extremely anxious and unsafe because of the pandemic. ”I think everybody is more on edge right now because of coming into contact with other people that you don't know, and being in a confined space can make anyone anxious,” Roker said. ”I have huge anxiety about taking the metro," said Hera York Soysal, a sophomore majoring in Global Communications. Her anxiety also comes from being in tight spaces and she thinks that, “being underground in the metro seems like the perfect place to contract the virus.” Petit doesn’t feel safe taking the metro because it’s a closed space without any fresh air circulating. Another student, Isaac Bates, who is majoring in International and Comparative Politics, feels extremely uneasy using public transportation because he has high blood pressure which makes him a high-risk individual. Both the metros and buses are packed, causing students to worry that their own health and safety are being put in danger.

Sophomore Hera Soysal in Paris. Image Credit: Hera Soysal

There are some students who keep a positive outlook and feel like people are doing the best they can to follow France’s public transportation regulations. Since the safety measures were first enforced in the metro, Roker says she has not seen anyone without a mask. She also appreciated seats marked with an "X" that encourage people not to sit too close to others. 

There are exceptions, however. “Most people follow the rules, except for social distancing because it is not possible to follow them, even if people wanted to due to the high number of people taking the metro,” says Bates. He also says he has seen people come on to the metro without a mask or wearing it improperly. Annelyse Gaston-Carrere, who is pursuing a master's in Global Communication at AUP, agrees, saying, “some people don't wear masks or have it under their chin, which is pointless. A majority of people, especially young people around the ages of 18-20, don't wear their masks.” She also noted that many people don’t follow social distancing guidelines, sitting extremely close to her even when they have the option to stand farther away. Even optimistic students like Leila believe people could do more to respect personal boundaries and not sit directly next to other people, saying, ”people are not cognizant of the fact that they are infringing on your space.”

"For our health, we all wear a mask" sign in a metro station. Image Credit: Creative Commons/Ibex73

As the confirmed COVID cases spike over 1 million in France, the government has attempted to regulate safety rules more strictly. Riders are encouraged not to use the transportation systems during rush hours unless absolutely necessary and to social distance when possible. If masks are not worn correctly in the metro cars or stations, people are now subject first to a fine of 135€ and over 1000€ for any repeated incidents. But students don’t think these threats are being taken seriously. In Soysal’s experience, people do not follow the rules at all. She also noticed that the metros are rarely cleaned, which makes her feel even worse.

In an effort to travel safely to the AUP campus, students are experimenting with alternatives. Roker’s substitute for taking the metro is using Uber. Soysal still uses public transportation but said she prefers taking the bus because "you get fresh air every time the doors open.” She still feels there could be more safety measures put in place to alleviate anxiety, possibly by limiting the number of people that enter the bus. Petit has chosen to drive her family’s car or rider her bike to class instead of relying on public transportation.

But each of these solutions poses a new issue. Uber rides every day are not a financial possibility for many students because of strict budgets, biking requires money to purchase equipment like bike locks and helmets and many at AUP simply do not have a French license. So for students who live further away from campus, the metro system is their only option. Gaston-Carrere, who recently moved outside of Paris, has no alternative than her one-hour metro ride to school, during which "no one respects the distancing,” according to her.

New York City MTA sanitize subway cars. Image Credit: Creative Commons/MTAPhotos

Instead of students changing their own transportation habits, many feel like the French government has the responsibility to enforce its own regulations. Other major cities like New York have taken drastic efforts to sanitize metro cars and ensure the safety of passengers. Some AUP students feel there are no more additional regulations possible for the metro and RER but Bates says he wishes, "that police would enforce the 135€ fine more. I would like to see police officers come into the train and enforce the rule.” While Petit says, "unfortunately I think there is nothing more we could do to improve the overall hygiene of the metro,” other students feel conflicted. "I think the government has not set enough rules for public transportation yet at the same time it is difficult to do so,” says Gaston-Carrere.

Students at AUP have expressed their concerns about taking public transportation in Paris. All students who face anxiety about taking the metro have valid feelings and while it is necessary for the French Government to implement more safety measures, it is very difficult to do so. Students have found alternative ways to get around the city but in most cases need to take the metro because the other options are not feasible. Hopefully, in the future, there will be more safety measures set in place to alleviate anxiety faced by students, but for now, students are resilient and have adapted to taking the metro in Paris as best as they can.