I will be in Paris soon and I consider an 'unlimited' day pass for public transport. But I would like to know a bit more about the bus lines.

When having a day pass for public transport in a city it is fun to just jump on a bus and see where it takes you, but it is easier if you can guess what kind of pattern the buses follow.

Someone explained for London that most buses go either east/west or north/south and very few combine those, so to go north-west you travel north first and then change on a west bus or go west first and than change to go north.

In Amsterdam the trams are like the spokes of a wheel or the frame of a net and most buses go round in circles to connect points on the spokes, with a few buses following the tram network. So from the central station which is the start point for the trams, you follow the spokes and if you are in one point of town and want to go to an other without going to the main station, you look at buses.

Do the buses in Paris have a pattern?

  • Be aware that public transportation is often planned on other criteria than by following a geographically regular pattern. For instance, instead of using focal points at specific locations, the focal points of a transportation system can match with centers of quarters or other important points, which are not geographically regularly positioned on their own, and can heavily depend on the terrain in the area. Likewise, bus routes are not necessarily designed to be seen "as a whole"; i.e. sometimes bus routes are designed in a way so subsections are important connections, but no passenger is ... – O. R. Mapper Dec 25 '15 at 17:27
  • ... expected to stay in the bus for the whole route, because in that case, there would be quicker alternative connections. Even in cities built on a regular grid pattern, one-way roads and pedestrian precincts can be obstacles to planning any regular bus movements. And lastly, it also depends a lot on whether a bus network gets (re)designed from scratch or "grows" by occasionally adding another couple of stops at the end of some routes. Hence, even though buses might follow a seemingly regular pattern in some cities, it is still plausible that they might not in others. – O. R. Mapper Dec 25 '15 at 17:27
  • I'm not convinced that your London rule of thumb is accurate: many major bus corridors in London run more NW/SE or NE/SW than N/S or E/W - for example Harrow Road, Edgware Road/Maida Vale, Holborn-Russell Sq-Euston-Camden Town, Essex Road, Waterloo Bridge/Waterloo Road, etc etc - content.tfl.gov.uk/bus-route-maps/central-london-bus-map.pdf – nekomatic May 16 '16 at 12:04

Inside Paris (the municipality, which is basically the same thing as zone 1 on transport maps) and in the innermost suburbs, you can go everywhere with the metro (and in places RER), but buses provide a useful complement to get closer to some destinations or if the trip by metro would require a detour and changes. There's no real system. Most bus lines cross the city, but not in a straight line. For long distances (say going halfway across Paris), buses are typically much slower than taking the metro even if the metro requires a connection; unless you want to see the sights, you'd usually not stay on a bus for the most part of its route.

Lines number 1–14 are the metro, 20–99 are Paris inner city buses, and ≥100 are suburban buses. Some suburbs also have buses operated by different agencies with their own numbering system.

Within Paris, the first digit of a bus line indicates near which hub one of its endpoints is, but that won't help you much because the rest of the route could be anything (e.g. 2x buses go to or near Saint-Lazare, but if you see a 22 and want to go to Saint-Lazare, you'd need to know that the direction you want is Opera; and if you're starting from Montparnasse, the 95 will get you to Saint-Lazare quicker than the 28, but metro 13 is much faster than any bus). So knowing the first-digit rule is cute, but it won't really help you in practice.

There's a hub-and-spokes system in some suburbs, where you take a train or metro to a stop and continue by bus. The lines tend to follow commuter patterns; I can't think of a place that has a gridlike system with north/south and east/west lines. You shouldn't expect the kind of organization that's typically found in Germany in Switzerland at least, and I think in the Netherlands too: if the train is scheduled to arrive at :00, the bus is scheduled at :01, and the train is two minutes late, don't count on the bus waiting.

All the metro stations, and many but not all bus stops, have a network map. All bus stops (at least inside Paris, I'm not sure if this applies to all suburbs) except temporary ones due to construction, and all the buses, have at least a line map like this one. The line is all flattened, so this gives a poor idea of local geography, but you may recognize some familiar names here and there. I'd still recommend having a proper map with you. You should be able to get a copy of the Paris bus map with major streets in manned metro stations.

Directions like “northbound/eastbound/…” are never used in Paris, all signs list endpoints (and occasionally major intermediate stops, e.g. most suburban RER stations have clear indications of which platform to go to for Paris). So you will need to check a map if you only have a vague direction in mind rather than a precise destination.

  • It is a pitty for me that there is no clear pattern, but it is better to know the system that is there than to try to find a pattern which does not excist. Thanks. – Willeke Dec 27 '15 at 19:02
  • This is probably the only case where it is used, but inside Paris (and particularly at Châtelet-Les Halles), the RER A is also designated by its east/westbound direction and the RER B by its north/southbound direction. – Vince Dec 27 '15 at 22:09

While there does not seem to be a real pattern, the lines have been designated to make their itinerary clear. All bus lines are numbered from 20 to 99. The two figures forming the number of the line each represent a neighborhood in Paris. So when boarding any bus, you can guess if it goes to the neighborhood you want. Some itineraries changed since the network was built, but it still works in many cases. For example, 9x buses terminate at or go through Montparnasse.

I am still curious of the colors for each bus line so if anyone has an explanation please share it (I suppose it is the color of the metro line they follow, I don't have anything better yet).

For the bus lines, Wikipedia lists the neighborhoods.

Also, one should note that the bus and metro networks are not particularly designed to be complementary, some bus and metro lines being very close to each other. Until 2015, connection from one to another were not possible with the same ticket.

  • 2
    Notice that you can plan your route here : ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_20527/getting-around and see a large and recent bus map here : ratp.fr/informer/pdf/orienter/… – audionuma Dec 25 '15 at 16:45
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    The colours were originally chosen purely to distinguish the lines well on maps (lines in similar directions have different colours). Now it's not necessarily true anymore, but that's because the lines have been modified with the colours kept intact. – yo' Dec 25 '15 at 22:08

I had a look at a bus line map, the one in this PDF, and did not see a system.
But often it is the regular users who can easily point out what visitors miss seeing. Or it is buses in a certain pattern that are much more frequent than buses that go against the grain.

The river Seine as seen from a bus stop between the Eiffel tower and the Notre Dame
Unforseen stops on the bus (end of service) can get you some great photos.
Photo by Willeke, free to use.

The best I can say for now is that most buses seem to connect far away points, traveling through the center of the city in more or less random almost straight routes, that intersect at times.

Having used the buses in Paris, I would say that most buses in the central part of Paris cross the center and often spread out into the outlaying areas. And I have to say that the company is rather likely to take buses out of action, two times it took two buses to get to where we wanted to go, even then both times we needed to walk the distance of two stops to get where we wanted to go.

In peak times the buses often get stuck in traffic and while they have right of way part of the routes the buses do tend to go in uneven patterns due to traffic holding some of them back. Time indicators at the stops help but they are not always accurate.

For planning purposes, also for disrupted services due to work and such, use this interactive map. If the settings have reverted to metro, there is an option to get buses at the top left, just on the map itself.

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