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Public transportation in France: a guide for foreign students

Studying in France? You should absolutely take advantage of the extensive public transport system and their reduced fares for students to explore the country!

In most French cities, using local public transport is cheaper and faster than using a car, so using public transport on a day to day basis is the most efficient way to get around.

Public transportation systems in the main French student cities are pretty similar and usually involve a mix of trains, buses, subways, self-service bikes, and sometimes tramways for the biggest ones. 

Most cities also offer a reduced fare for students: on average, a monthly transport pass costs 30€. 

You’ll find a detailed overview of public transportation in France’s biggest student cities: Paris, Lyon & Marseille!

Price of public transportation for students in France

Public transportation for students in Paris, France

Paris’s transportation system is divided in 5 zones. Zone 1 is the center of Paris (Paris intramuros), and then the Zone 5 includes the cities furthest from Paris. For example, Charles de Gaulle airport is situated in zone 5.

At first, understanding the Paris’ transportation system can be a little hard, especially if you don’t speak French! I personally really like the free app Citymapper, it’s a life saver and I use it everyday. You can get it here (iOS) or here (Android).

public transportation in france

How much does transportation cost in Paris for students?

A single subway or bus trip ticket costs 1.90€ in the the center of Paris, but the cheapest way to use it is to get a monthly Imagin’r student pass for 39€/month or 350€/year, which gives you access not only to the subway, but also to all buses, trams, and trains in Paris and its suburbs, without limits.

Taking the subway in Paris

The iconic Parisian métro has 16 lines, and it’s the best way to travel in the center of Paris (zone 1 & 2).

Its cleanliness is somewhat questionable, and delays do occur sometimes, but even with all of those shortcomings, it’s still one of the most efficient ways to get around the City of Light.

public transportation in france
Map of the Parisian metro

Taking self-service bikes in Paris

public transportation in france
A Vélib bike station

If you don’t mind getting sweaty, the Vélib is going to be your best friend! There is more than 1.400 Vélib stations in Paris and its surroundings (zone 1, 2, & 3).

Now, you cannot use the Imagin’r student pass to use Vélib, but don’t worry, students benefit from a special fare and can get a Vélib pass (V-plus Jeune) for 2,30€/month or 27,60€ per year. If you don’t plan on using bikes often, you can also choose to not pay for a pass, and just pay when you use one: using a Vélib bike for 30min costs 1€ for the regular ones, & 2€ for the electric ones.

public transportation in france
Map of the RER (trains)

Taking the train in Paris (RER, Transilien)

In Paris and its suburbs, there are two types of trains: the RER and the Transilien.

There is 5 RER lines (RER A, B, C, D & E), and 8 Translilien lines (Line H, J, K, L, N, P, R, & U). They’re mostly used to get around the suburbs of Paris (zone 3, 4 & 5, which mostly includes cities in Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne, Essonnes, Yvelines & Seine-et-Marne). 

For example, if you study at ESSEC in Cergy-Pontoise (zone 5), you’re going to have to take the train (RER A) to go to Paris.

Travelling on the RER or the Transilien is more expensive than travelling on the subway if you use single tickets, so if you’re going to live or study in the suburbs of Paris, I would once again recommend getting the Imagin’r pass.

Taking the bus or the tramway in Paris

Finally, buses & tramways complete the train & subway system.

There are 10 tramway lines in Paris, and they mostly operate in Paris suburbs. 

As for the buses, there are way too many bus services & lines for me to list them all in this article, but one specific bus service you should know is the Noctilien.

Noctiliens are night buses that are in service from 00:30 to 5:30 every day, when the regular bus/subway/train service stops at night. If you want to enjoy a night out but don’t want to pay for a Uber, this is the perfect solution! 

public transportation in france
Map of the Noctilien night buses

Public transportation for students in Lyon, France

In Lyon, public transportation is managed by TCL. Like in Paris, it includes subway lines, tramway lines & buses.

Even if the Lyon’s public transportation system is fairly straightforward, I would still recommend using Citymapper to get familiar with it. You can get the app here (iOS) or here (Android). 

How much does transportation cost in Lyon for students?

A single ticket costs 1.90€ and is valid for an entire journey in bus, tramway & subway.

However, if you’re a student under 25 and you’re going to use public transportation regularly, you should get a TCL student pass for 32,50€/month or 325€/year (More details here) 

Taking the subway in Lyon

public transportation in france

The Lyon subway has 4 lignes: line, A, B, C & D. The subway allows you to get around in the Lyon’s city center (1rst, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th & 9th arrondissement) and in the surrounding cities (Vénissieux, Ecully, Villeurbanne, Meyzieu…).

Taking the tramway in the Lyon

Lyon’s tramway system operates in Lyon’s nine arrondissement and in Villeurbanne, Bron, Meyzieu & Chassieu.

There are 6 tramway lines: T1, T2, T3, T4, T5, and a special line, the RhônExpress. The latter line connects the Lyon-Saint-Exupéry airport to Lyon Part-Dieu station (3rd arrondissement) in only 30 minutes. A one-way ticket for the RhônExpress tram costs 16.30€.

Taking the bus in the Lyon

Finally, let’s talk about the buses! There’s more than 120 bus lines in Lyon and its suburbs, and they’re very useful especially if you live outside the city center. For example, if you go to EM Lyon at Ecully, the easiest way to get there is to take the subway (line D), and then the bus (line 3).

public transportation in france
Map of the Pleine Lune bus lines

Lyon’ bus services also includes 3 night lines, Pleine Lune 1, 2 & 3. When the subway and the bus service is over, the Pleine Lune lines bring you home at night from Thursday to Friday, Friday to Saturday and Saturday to Sunday.

They run from September to the end of June according to the university calendar. This is definitely the best budget-friendly when you want to come home from a night out! 

Using self-service bikes in Lyon

Another good option to explore Lyon and its suburbs is using the Vélo’v, the self-service bike system of the city.

If you’re going to use it often, you should get the VÉLO’V student pass, for €16,5/ year.

If you just want to use a Vélo’v bike from time to time, one bike journey costs 1,8€, and a day pass costs 4€.

public transportation in france
Vélo'v bikes

Public transportation for students in Marseille, France

With 2 subway lines, 80 bus lines, 3 tramway lines & a self-service bike system, Marseille’s public transportation system might be less developed than the ones in Paris & Lyon, but it’s enough to move around in the Mediterranean capital.

Citymapper is available in Marseille as well, so if you’re going to study there, you should download it!

How much does transportation cost in Marseille for students?

If you’re a student under 25, getting the RTM student pass is a no-brainer. It only costs 18,3€/month or 220€/year, and you can get it here. You can use it on the whole RTM system (bus, tramway, subway)

You also have the option of buying single tickets for 1,40€.

Taking the subway & the tramway in Marseille

Map of the subway and the tram in Marseille

Taking the subway in Marseille is pretty easy as there’s only 2 lines:

  • Line 1, that runs in the north-east of the city (La Rose, Les Chartreux), the city center (Cinq-Avenues, Vieux-Port, Préfecture) and the east of the city (La Blancarde, Saint-Barnabé)
  • Line 2, that connects the north to the south of the city (Sainte-Marguerite)

It operates from 5AM to 1AM everyday.

3 tramway lines complete the subway (T1,T2,T3). Those lines are in service from 5AM to 00:30AM.

Taking the bus in Marseille

Taking the bus in Marseille is actually a great way to get around in the city, because it goes everywhere, even in the narrowest streets of the city that can’t be accessed in subway or tramway. 

Buses go to of the major schools (Ecole Centrale de Marseille) and most of the tourist sites (Notre Dame de la Garde, MuCEM…)

Taking self-service bikes in Marseille

If you have a RTM student pass, you can access RTM’s self-service bike system for only 1€ a year!

There’s more than 130 stations, and biking through the city can be a very pleasant experience, if you don’t mind the hilly and narrow streets! 

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