It was a companion on many trips through the Paris subway, inspired artists and even gave its name to a popular bikini waxing style. But all good things must come to an end, and so is the fate of the legendary Paris subway ticket.
After 120 years of loyal service, the small rectangular card will expire, creating a contactless future for the city’s public transportation.
The end was thought-provoking among Parisian commuters, many of whom saw it as the city’s vintage emblem — mixed with a bit of nostalgia.
“Sure it’s progress, but I’m old-fashioned,” said Brazilian tourist Jarbas Luiz do Santos, who has kept subway tickets as souvenirs since he visited Paris 20 years ago. “The end of a subway ticket is also the end of a certain type of travel.”
From Gainsbourg to bikini waxes
The subway ticket was born in July 1900 with the inauguration of line 1. It came on the market in various colors over the years and developed from a punch card to a magnetized card in the 1970s, but always retained its characteristic shape.
This 30 x 66 mm rectangle has also found many alternative uses over the years, from bookmarks to makeshift notepads and cigarette filters. It also found its way into French popular culture, the star of the 1959 hit “Le Poinconneur des Lilas” by singer Serge Gainsbourg (The Ticket Puncher of Lilas Station), a lucky charm for Yves Montand in the 1953 film Wages of Fear and the cover of Raymond Queneau’s novel Zazie in the Metro.
The shape of the subway ticket even gave way to a bikini wax style of the same name, which is sometimes referred to as a “runway” in English. In a study from 2020 in Version Femina magazine, the “Ticket Metro” was found to be the most popular bikini wax among Parisian women.
“It’s small and only takes about an hour or an hour and a half,” said Grégoire Thonnat, a collector and author of a book about the history of subway tickets. “But we’re kind of stuck to it. It is pretty irrational!
The plan to get rid of the subway ticket has been in progress for years and was originally planned for 2021. However, the Covid-19 pandemic combined with a global shortage of microchips forced the Ile-de-France Mobilites, which operates the subway ticketing system, to postpone.
Subway ticket sales still amount to 550 million per year, equivalent to over 50 tons of paper. Reusable plastic smart cards will replace tickets and reduce this waste, officials say.