Paris 2024: Is the metro system ready? GETTY IMAGES

The Paris metro, long the envy of other cities, has undergone a change of perception as it grapples with ageing infrastructure just three and a half months before the Olympics.

Once a symbol of efficiency and convenience, the system has become a daily source of frustration for commuters. This change in mood coincides with the French capital's preparations for the Olympic Games.

"It's really difficult and we're not even at the Olympics yet, when there will be millions of people on it," Juliette Fayaud, a 26-year-old restaurant worker, told AFP on the platform of line 8. "There aren't enough trains. Sometimes at rush hour there's a train every five minutes when you need them every two or three," she said.

A signifivant number of metro employees were furloughed during the pandemic and did not resume their positions, leading to staffing shortages. The process of training new staff to fill these vacancies was also significantly delayed. "I think it's going to be terrible during the Olympics," 22-year-old shop assistant Gabrielle Camus, another daily user, told AFP as she waited for a train. "I plan to use a bike and avoid the metro as much as possible, because the ticket will near-double its price during Olympics", she added.

In 2023, for the third year in a row, commuters using the larger overground trains, known as RER lines, received refunds due to persistent punctuality problems. However, the service has not yet returned to pre-Olympic levels.

During the Olympic Games, which are expected to attract around seven million visitors to Paris from 26 July to 11 August, the commuter rail system will come under intense scrutiny as the main mode of transport for both tourists and locals.

The run-up to the Games, significant political pressure, coupled with the appointment of former prime minister Jean Castex as the head of Autonomous Parisian Transportation Authority (RATP) in 2022, has resulted in gradual enhancements in recent months, as indicated by surveys conducted by the capital's transport authority. Castex warned in December that eight out of ten lines were "no longer able to provide a quality public service", which he blamed on "40 years of underinvestment".

Workers are working feverishly to complete key line extensions before the Olympics, notably the link from Orly airport in the south to line 14 and the creation of a new transport hub near the Stade de France in the north, where the athletics events will be held.

"It's a challenge we can take on," Valerie Pecresse, head of the Paris region, told reporters at the end of March when she unveiled her transport plans for the Olympics. "Don't be afraid to walk a little. It's good for your health," Pecresse told Parisians.

Certain metro and RER lines, particularly those serving the football, tennis and athletics stadiums, will see a significant increase in train frequency, with up to 71 per cent more trains than on a typical summer day.

Paris is embarking on a 'bicycle transformation'. GETTY IMAGES
Paris is embarking on a 'bicycle transformation'. GETTY IMAGES

Eager to showcase its cycling transformation, Paris is ensuring that every Olympic venue can be reached by bike, with 415 kilometres of new cycle lanes and 20,000 parking spaces. There will be no car parking at the venues, which is expected to cause traffic jams in the capital due to road closures.

Chief organiser Tony Estanguet last week expressed confidence in the city's ability to cope with the increased demand on its trains, buses, trams and cycle paths during the Olympics. "This is a key issue for the smooth organisation and success of our event. We're well aware of it," he told reporters.

Charles de Gaulle and Orly, Paris' main airports, are preparing for a major responsibility and have added 15 extra baggage screening lines between them. "The infrastructure is ready," the general manager of their operating company said recently. Traffic is expected to reach the typical summer average of 300,000 arrivals per day, with a significant increase in demand in the days following the closing ceremony on 11 August.