FRANCE

'I filmed my nightmare commute on Paris public transport'

Nawufal Mohamed lives in Clichy-sous-Bois, an underprivileged Parisian suburb located in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, known locally by its official administrative number (93). Nawufal studies urban planning… but in order to do so, he encounters a failure in urban planning every day. His university is also in 93, but Parisian suburbs are notoriously underserved by the public transport system, so, on a good day, he spends about three and a half hours to get to school and back. He filmed his daily commute for France 24’s “Pas 2 Quartier” project on French suburbs.

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Nawufal Mohamed lives in Clichy-sous-Bois, an underprivileged Parisian suburb located in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, known locally by its official administrative number (93). Nawufal studies urban planning… but in order to do so, he encounters a failure in urban planning every day. His university is also in 93, but Parisian suburbs are notoriously underserved by the public transport system, so, on a good day, he spends about three and a half hours to get to school and back. He filmed his daily commute for France 24’s “Pas 2 Quartier” project on French suburbs.

“Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress—jobs, quality food, and goods (at reasonable prices), healthcare and schooling— relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price,” wrote Gillian B. White in a piece in the Atlantic about how lack of transport affects poor communities.

This is the situation playing out for people living in Paris’ notoriously underprivileged suburbs, who are missing out on opportunities quite literally because they can’t get to them. Northeastern suburb Clichy-sous-Bois became famous in 2005 when it was rocked by violent riots. The French government promised to improve public transportation links. Ten years later, Clichy residents, like Nawufal, are still waiting.

 

"I often say to myself that I’m brave to do this every day"

 

I commute from my home in Clichy-sous-Bois to my university, Saint-Denis (Paris VIII), almost every day. Even if I am going from one suburb to another, I have to go through central Paris. On the day I filmed the video, every step of my commute worked out perfectly and, even then, it took me about an hour and a half [Editor’s note: According to Google Maps, it would take less than half that amount of time-- 38 minutes-- to go from Nawufal’s address to his university by car without going through central Paris.]

But, believe me, it isn’t always that easy. To get to school, I take a suburban bus to an overland train to the metro. If just one of the modes of transportation has a problem, then my entire journey gets screwed. On a good day, I’m on the 601 bus for about 25 minutes. But if I get stuck in a traffic jam, I’m in trouble.

"People don’t get why I’m always late"

When I finally get to school, I always tell myself I’m brave to do this journey every day. When you live where I do, getting anywhere else is always difficult. Clichy-sous-Bois doesn’t have a tram stop or a train station, so you have to spend at least 20 minutes in the bus to get to the nearest train station, in Raincy.

Going from one suburb to another is always hard... but it’s especially bad for people living in Clichy. I have friends who commute from suburbs in other departments and they get to school before I do. They don’t get why I am always late.

I could start leaving even earlier than I do, but that doesn’t always make a difference. Plus, it is just really tiring to have to always plan ahead like that.

"It’s just disgusting to prevent a tram from being built"

Lack of public transport is honestly the biggest issue facing my community. Believe it or not, it used to be worse. We got several new bus lines in the 2000s.

We are still waiting for the T4 tramway to be built [Editor’s note: The city has said it will be operational by 2018]. But several local city halls are trying to prevent it from being built. It’s disgusting. For us, it’s obvious what is going on: they want to keep us in a ghetto. In these kind of conditions, I understand people who don’t motivate themselves to look for work in central Paris or elsewhere [Editor's note: 25 percent of Clichy-sous-Bois residents are unemployed.]

Another problem that confronts us is that employers always prefer hiring someone who lives near their workplace. People from Clichy, which is totally cut off, are usually last in line.

 

"Going home at night is the height of the transport nightmare"

Going out in Paris is a whole different story. When my friends and I go get a drink together after class, I always leave early. I have the time of the last trains, buses and metro all memorised and I am always busy trying to calculate exactly when I need to leave so I don’t miss my train. I head out by midnight on most nights. It’s hard because I leave before everyone else, but I get home later.

If I miss the last train, I can always take the Noctilien night bus that goes from the Gare de l’Est station in Paris to Clichy, but I often have to wait between 45 minutes to an hour to catch it. Last time, I got to the stop and saw that the next bus was set to arrive in 62 minutes. It just kills me, it makes me so mad. And you can’t even imagine what kind of people you see in the middle of the night at these stops.

 

Nawefal in the night bus N45, heading to Clichy.

 

 "I love my town and I don’t want to leave"

I could have tried to leave home to get an apartment in Paris but I have family responsibilities. I’m the oldest and I have a couple of little brothers. Soon, they are going to need my help to get enrolled in college themselves. So my situation is difficult-- I can’t leave them.

I also have to say that I love my community. People often say that you can travel the world in an hour in Clichy because there are so many people of different nationalities. People are warm and friendly and our neighbours are always bringing over traditional food from all over the world. In Clichy; you never feel alone.

People are always criticising Clichy's young people who often band together and sometimes turn to juvenile delinquency. But, honestly, people in my neighbourhood come together because that’s what keeps us going when we are depressed. Otherwise, you just go crazy. So, no, I don’t want to move”.

 

When will Clichy and Montfermeil get better access to transportation?

The French government promised to open a tramline to Clichy and its neighbour Montfermeil in 2005 in the wake of widespread riots, which were sparked by the death of two young people in Clichy-sous-Bois who were fleeing the police. France declared a state of national emergency during the riots and the situation made it impossible to ignore the disenfranchisement of French suburbs and the anger of populations cut off from resources. Has anything changed? According to the initial calendar, the T4 tram should already be running. Locals are still waiting for the line then deemed a “public priority”.

The last official announcement predicted that the new tram line won’t open before 2018. But even that isn’t sure: several neighbouring cities, which are located along the projected tram route, are still opposed to it. Pavillons-sous-Bois and Livry-Gargan are two relatively affluent communities near Clichy and Montfermeil. In order to delay the start to construction, the conservative mayor of Livry-Gargan (from Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party) refused to sign off on construction supposed to start this year. He says his commune can’t justify spending money on the line.

The mayor of Clichy-Sous-Bois doesn’t believe that explanation.

"It’s completely unreasonable if the fear [of the T4] comes from the idea of establishing a physical link between Livry-Gargan and Clichy-Montfermeil (…)," he said.

The more ambitious transport project aiming to open up the two communes is the Grand Paris Express super-metro, a project that aims to massively expand the Parisian transport system and link many of the suburbs. But Clichy residents will have to remain patient for the time being as their station isn’t set to open until 2023. This metro extension should help residents cut an entire half-hour out of their travel time to many destinations, if and when it is completed.

In 2014, people in the Île de France region (including Paris and its suburbs) spend on average one and a half hours in public transport a day. Yet a gaping disparity exists between Parisians, who travel 30 minutes on average to get to work, and people who go from one suburb to another, whose commute is often double the length.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre (@segomalterre)