En route to a greater Paris

Accomplish • Pulse #7 • 13 MIN
By Tiphaine Clotault By Youenn Dupuis Deputy general director France in charge of the Greater Paris region

In April 2009, the then French president Nicolas Sarkozy concluded his speech outlining the Greater Paris project by emphasizing the decisive role to be played by transport. As a result, a better balance between the mobility solutions available in Paris and in its suburbs became the cornerstone for the creation of a global metropolis in step with the 21st century — the world’s third-largest in terms of surface area (12,000 sq. km), behind Greater New York and Greater Tokyo. This spawned a project to create a regional “super-metro”, the Grand Paris Express, which will circle the capital and connect communities located in its inner and outer suburbs. In addition to improving access and bringing these communities closer together, the project also aims to speed up change in other areas deemed essential for the creation of a genuine “Greater Paris”. The idea being to drive a transformation that is not only urban and economic but also social, environmental and cultural. Four years before the scheduled delivery of the first sections of the super-metro, Pulse presents an initial review of progress made so far.

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On 14 December 2020, after 11 years of construction work, the Paris metro’s line 14 finally crossed the ring road separating the capital from its northern suburbs with the opening of a 3-mile (5.8-km) extension. It was a major milestone because the extension alleviates congestion on one of the metro’s black spots, line 13, which links the northern suburbs to the capital’s centre — by as much as 25% according to regional transport authority Île-de-France Mobilités. More importantly, even though line 14 isn’t officially part of the Grand Paris Express network, this rollout sets the scene for what’s ahead: four lines, including 124 miles (200 km) of track and 68 stations, to be delivered in sections between 2025 and 2030. And line 14 — which will be further extended to reach the Paris 2024 Olympic Village and Paris-Orly airport — will itself play a key role in linking the future regional super-metro
to the city centre, thanks to its record frequency of one train every 85 seconds.

Priority to the east in 2025

Société du Grand Paris, the company appointed by the French government to design and execute the project, has prioritized the work being carried out. The first communities to benefit from the network’s first two lines (15 South and 16) in 2025 will be those in the eastern suburbs, currently the least well connected in terms of suburb-to-suburb transport. The anticipated time savings are significant: 20 minutes between Saint-Denis and Clichy-Montfermeil and 38 minutes between Pont-de-Sèvres and Noisy-Champs (a 24-mile/39-km journey) versus an hour today.

Because the most important thing about this long-awaited super-metro is that it’s going to make life easier for millions of people living in and around the French capital. The current regional network, which has connected the suburbs to Paris since the 19th century, is no longer aligned with residents’ transport needs. Today, suburb-to-suburb travel accounts for 70% of the daily journeys made in the Paris region — up 50% in 30 years), 80% of the journeys are made by car to avoid having to cross the capital.
As a result, people spend, on average, 90 minutes on the daily commute. Since the last major network extension in the Paris metropolitan area (the suburban rail network in 1977), the population has increased by 2.2 million and the economic and demographic dynamics have completely changed. Today, 58% of the region’s jobs are located outside Paris and its La Défense business district and the capital loses 11,000 residents each year while outlying areas gain 65,000 more. The aim is therefore to create a Greater Paris transport system as practical as the one within the city itself.

An innovative passenger experience

To meet today’s passenger expectations, the super-metro will also be much more efficient and comfortable, with air-conditioned carriages, increased frequency (every 2 to 3 minutes), faster speeds (34 to 40 mph/55 to 65 kph), greater connectivity and improved connections. As an automated network, it will also adjust the frequency of departures depending on the day of the week and any specific events. But more importantly, it will excel in a realm where the Paris metro struggles: accessibility. With some platforms as far as 164 feet (50 metres) below ground, accessibility will be achieved thanks to lifts. Since late 2020, details have also been revealed about the innovations we can expect to see in stations. Information about occupancy rate and passenger distribution will be displayed on the platform as each train approaches. The furniture will take into account passengers’ physical and behavioural diversity during waiting times (active, anxious, relaxed, etc.), by including low seating, perch seating and spaces for child stroller and wheelchair. Stations will also be designed to make passengers feel welcome and safe. Fresh air and natural light will filter down to the platforms to offset the feeling of being underground. And the lighting will reflect the time of day and the season, thanks to technology that reproduces the sun’s natural cycle.

Multiple projects to improve other transport services

On the cost side, the initial budget was estimated at €35 billion, financed partly through very long-term loans. But this was also meant to cover the cost of improving other transport infrastructure in the region, including extensions to line 14 and the 14 Eole, as well as the building of the CDG Express line to link Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport directly with Paris-Gare de l’Est train station. It’s been clear since 2018 that this initial budget will only cover the construction of the Grand Paris Express network. Nevertheless, all these other projects are still in the pipeline, and the super-metro has spurred the launch of many other projects benefiting suburban communities. No fewer than three Paris metro lines, four tram lines and one RER line are being extended in 2021. And four new tram networks are also going to be built. Residents in the suburb have also seen their transport conditions improve in recent years through the gradual renewal of rolling stock on local and regional train lines.


All the surveys point to the same thing: people in the Paris region would love to leave — and the recent lockdowns have only strengthened this trend. While few actually make the move — the region accounts for one-quarter of all jobs in France — this shows that people really do aspire to a better quality of life. Stress, pollution, housing prices and lack of space are among the main complaints. However, there is a huge disparity in quality of life across the region, which is home to both France’s wealthiest communities — Paris city centre and the western suburbs — and the poorest — Seine-Saint-Denis to the north of the city. The northern suburbs have nevertheless created more new jobs than anywhere else in the past decade. By serving 53 designated “priority neighbourhoods”, the Grand Paris Express will help improve things by providing better access to employment, learning and amenities (such as healthcare, leisure and culture) for the entire metropolitan area. But it’s expected to do more than just this. The aim is to drive sweeping urban development to create a cityscape that is at once inclusive, environmentally-sound and beautiful. And projects are now in full swing to achieve just that.

New role for stations as urban hubs

Metro stations barely visible from the street, where people just pass through, are poised to become a thing of the past. While the idea of an overhead network has been ditched (80% will run underground), the new super-metro will “occupy” urban space, thanks to the sometimes monumental architecture of its 68 stations, each one different to blend into its surroundings. But the aim is also to create new urban hubs. On station forecourts, designed to common specifications, the emphasis will be on planted spaces to provide a cooling effect, offering modular uses. Overground facilities will be open to the city and include shops, services and collaborative spaces. More surprisingly, stations will also be cultural venues accessible to everyone. Around 30 artists and architects have been creating artworks that will be incorporated in the architecture, including sculptures, videos and illuminated and digitally-enabled features.

Stepping up housing development projects

For the time being, however, Greater Paris is starting to take shape mainly around stations (within a radius of 800 metres). Everywhere, urban redesignation projects and new developments are underway or about to kick off , representing a surface area roughly one and a half times the size of the city of Paris. In a region where the housing stock renewal rate is low (1%/yr.), the goal is densification and greater social diversity. The average asking price per square metre of a house or apartment in the city centre has doubled in the last ten years (to €10,750), accelerating the gentrification of the inner suburbs and pushing out even more young and vulnerable residents. A report published in 2019 on progress in this area showed mixed results: among the 186 development projects underway, densification missed its targets and there were too few public and green spaces and not enough cycle ways. What’s more, projects are forging ahead faster in the west of the city than in the east. Between 250,000 and 400,000 homes are scheduled to be delivered by 2030 and later, so there is still time to get back on course, especially as outcomes are better regarding other objectives. For example, current development projects include 30% social housing, which in addition is well suited to the region’s changing household sizes and structures (smaller, intergenerational, designed for students). Furthermore, these new developments provide an almost even split between housing and commercial real estate (offices, shops and services), compared with a ratio of 60-40% at present. This is good news on the jobs front.

More eco-friendly place to live

Although modal shift targets have not been announced yet, the new super-metro should help reduce road traffic, which is responsible for 32% of greenhouse gas emissions in the Paris area. Air quality is also expected to improve. Currently, 1.4 million people in the region are exposed to pollution levels that exceed regulations. In addition, the urban development projects now taking shape are helping to step up the energy transition in the region, notably by deploying solar energy and electricity storage solutions. Nevertheless, given the metro’s significant energy requirements — equivalent to the needs of a city of 225,000 people — the Grand Paris Express aims to be exemplary. Circular economy inspired
innovations are in the pipeline, including waste heat recovery and re-use. What’s more, the stations themselves will provide energy for surrounding neighbourhoods. Geothermal energy, heat stored underground and heat loss from the metro infrastructure may be used to heat — or cool — nearby buildings. This solution has already been approved for three stations on line 15 Sud (south).


The third tier in the master plan is to make Greater Paris as attractive as possible. The goal ultimately is for the super-metro to connect the city’s three airports, its research hubs, universities and business clusters, putting Paris on a par with other global cities. But four years before rollout of the first sections, several challenges have yet to be addressed. The first one being of course to make it popular with commuters and businesses.
This implies convincing a significant proportion of the 10 million-plus citizens who, by that time, will live less than 1.2 miles (2 km) from a public transport hub (all modes combined). But it also means persuading the 50 million people who visit the Paris region every year either for business or pleasure to venture beyond Disneyland-Paris, La Défense, Versailles and the main city-centre attractions.

Improving transport links with paris’ 68 stations

Anyone who’s ever lived in the inner or outer suburbs of Paris knows that getting to a train or station other than by private car is neither quick nor easy.
Buses sometimes don’t run often enough and safe lanes are too disjointed. Regional transport authority Île-de-France Mobilités and the municipal authorities concerned have therefore got their work cut out for them in revamping public space around public transport and active modes of transport. This is especially true in the outer suburbs, home to 5.3 million people, where are used in 20% of cases for getting to local stations. Express bus services using dedicated motorway lanes will be ramped up. As for the stations on the new super-metro network, the aim is to turn them into “sustainable mobility hubs”, featuring an ecosystem of services for (parking, rental and repairs) and shared transport modes (ride-sharing, car-pooling and autonomous shuttles).

Avenues to ensure the new “greater” Paris becomes a prime tourist and cultural destination also need to be explored. Since the governance model for the metropolis has yet to be decided, the multi-layered administrations who currently oversee its future — sometimes with overlapping powers — need to learn to work better together. Furthermore, it is essential that the economic benefits of all these developments be redistributed more harmoniously to ensure social cohesion. One thing’s for sure, however: the new Greater Paris will be a tremendous driver for rebooting the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. Launched 12 years ago in the midst of the subprime crisis, the project is as relevant today as it was then.


12.17 million residents (up 0.5% per year), representing 19% of the population of mainland France, comprised of:
• 18% in Paris itself
• 38% in the inner suburbs
• 44% in the outer suburbs

1 013 people per sq. kilometre

28% of France’s GDP (5.8 million salaried jobs)

43 M million journeys daily, of which (vs. 2010):
• 21,9% by public transport (+14)
• 1,9% by bike (+30)
• 39,9% by foot (+8)
• 34,4% by car (-5)

(Source EGT 2020 – figures for 2018)


• 124-mile (200-km) automated metro with 68 new stations
• 1.45 million residents in station catchment areas
More than 10 million people living less than 1.2 miles (2 km) from a station (all networks combined)
• 2 to 3 million passengers per day
• €35 billion construction budget out of a total investment of €110 billion for Greater Paris projects (urban development, CDG Express line, etc.)

• 27.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided between now and 2050 (in total)
Between 250,000 and 400,000 homes built
• 115,000 jobs created
• €10 to €20 billion per year in additional GDP for Ile-de-France


Leaving aside the planned route, how will the Grand Paris Express revolutionise transport for people in the Paris region? What are their expectations? And what are the key drivers of the new network’s performance? Pulse spoke to Youenn Dupuis, Deputy general director France in charge of the Greater Paris region.

How will the super-metro transform Paris into a 21st-century global metropolis? And what are the stakes for an operator like Keolis?

The construction of the Grand Paris Express entails investments of €35 billion, the burden of which ultimately falls on taxpayers, with annual operating costs estimated at €1 billion. So, what we collectively owe to the people of the region is the world’s most modern metro, delivering a quality of service in line with the highest international standards. At Keolis, we believe we can achieve this goal by developing human-centric mobility. In other words, tailoring the system to each and every possible need and deploying well-trained, visible staff on the ground to engage directly with passengers.

How will “human-centred mobility” shape up?

Take cleanliness, for example, which is often cited as a problem by passengers in the Paris region. Technical solutions will of course help improve things, but what will really make a difference is ensuring teams apply a “zero defects” policy. This also goes for passenger information during service disruptions, and we intend to pay particular attention to the 40% of people in France who experience mobility-related vulnerabilities. This topic has been extensively researched by Keoscopie, our observatory of lifestyles and mobility trends. To be able to offer an alternative route to all passengers, staff must be trained to identify those who either have a visible disability or suffer from an invisible vulnerability, such as anxiety, language issues or difficulties in using digital technology. Keolis has applied this thinking to the Docklands Light Railway network in London, where it’s providing specialized training for staff. Another key aspect that requires a tailored response is spreading out peak rush-hour traffic. In Rennes, we worked with the city’s university to adjust timetables for staff and students to minimise the need to travel during rush-hour traffic. What’s more, because operators will also be responsible for managing the future stations on the Grand Paris Express network, they’ll have a crucial role to play in making them fully-fledged urban hubs that contribute to the vibrancy of surrounding neighbourhoods.

Last-mile mobility will be a key success factor for the Grand Paris Express. What’s needed in your opinion?

In the Paris region 48% of people almost always or sometimes use a different means of transport for their outward and return trip. The challenge therefore will be to offer a range of integrated and interchangeable solutions that people can choose between depending on the circumstances. The micromobility solutions we’re seeing emerge today like self-service electric bicycles are part of what should be on offer. And this should also include walking, which must be made safer, for example, with “walking bus” schemes, whereby staff accompany pedestrians. In the medium term, autonomous shuttles will offer a solution to passengers’ needs in the evening and during off-peak periods. Buses will, of course, remain the main way of getting people to stations, but with more flexible systems. On the networks we operate for Île-de-France Mobilités, we’re steadily introducing more on-demand schemes in the evening, for example, with buses waiting for passengers and allowing them to get off where it’s most convenient. We’re also developing continuity with train services, meaning that if a train is delayed a few minutes, the bus driver will wait for passengers.

These network upgrades will put pressure on public funding — especially with the current crisis. What financial leeway is available?

As public transport in the Paris region is opened up to competition, I see huge potential for cost savings, as operating costs across the region will be challenged. As well as financial benefits for the transport authority, competitive bidding will also drive quality of service and innovation as providers will undoubtedly seek to outdo each other in offering the best solutions for passengers in Europe’s most populated region.

Youenn Dupuis

Youenn Dupuis head of Keolis’ Greater Paris branch since 2017. The branch has 4,000 employees and 25 subsidiaries and carries 165 million passengers annually for Île-de-France Mobilités.


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