Have you ever loved something so much, yet absolutely hated it at the same time? These directly opposing feelings are actually a perfect description of how I feel about the metro in Toulouse. On one hand, it is my saviour and my travelling best friend. On the other hand, it’s the place where I am forced to stand uncomfortably close to sweaty strangers on a daily basis whilst gripping on to a germy hand rail for dear life.
It has to be said that the public transport in Toulouse is pretty amazing. As a young person I pay just over €10 a month, yes, a month, for unlimited metro, tram and bus rides. Those prices put London’s extortionate commuting costs to shame! However, when living in Toulouse, you quickly realise that the metro isn’t something for the faint hearted. You have to be agile, tough, and most importantly, prepared to literally fight for your place on the carriage.
As a regular peak time user of the metro, I’d like to think I’ve almost mastered the art of the morning commute, so I wanted to share my survival guide for anyone else living in the city. Or for any unsuspecting visitors, because honey, you’ve got a big storm coming.
The 1 off 5 on rule
When you regularly travel on the metro in the morning, you adapt to survive. Most people have now learnt to contort their bodies in ways that weren’t thought humanly possible in order to slot in neatly underneath a stranger’s armpit. I am a pretty small person, but even I have often surprised myself with the tiny gaps that I have managed to squeeze into.
It is because of this newfound ability that morning metro-goers have to fit into every nook and cranny, that what I like to call the ‘1 person off, 5 people on’ rule has been developed. When it comes to this rule, the clue is in the title. If the carriage you’re waiting for has even one person getting off at the station, then you’re in luck. Nobody knows how or why it’s possible to fit so many people in place of just one, but we’re not complaining about it either.
Nothing grinds my gears more than a slow metro boarder. I mean sometimes it really is shocking just how slow people can be, even when boarding an empty carriage. This is where the pushing technique comes in.
Okay so obviously I’m not suggesting that you take out the nearest OAP when getting onto an empty carriage, I’m not pure evil. But at those times when you feel as if you’re stuck in the middle of a flock of gormless sheep, you’ve got places to be and T-minus 3 seconds until the doors close, I am often thankful for the person at the back who loses their temper and herds the crowd in. We need more people like that in the transport world. The point I’m trying to make here is that when you’re in a big crowd, a little pushing never hurt nobody, in fact, people will probably appreciate it.
Hold on for dear life
If you take the metro in Toulouse, then it won’t take you long to realise that the metal poles really are essential for survival. The trains aren’t actually driven by real people, yet you still get the feeling that someone, somewhere in a dark control room, is playing with you. One minute they’re stopping, the next they’re starting again, and they seem to just love accelerating quickly before hitting the breaks straight after. I just don’t have the core strength to deal with it. Trust me, if you want to avoid falling headfirst into a French man’s lap then I suggest you hold on to any section of pole you can find.
Know what you’re leaning on
This specific tip is inspired by my friend Estelle’s embarrassing experience on her way to university. It all started when as usual, after slotting in to her place, she leant backwards against the bar for some much needed stability. After a few minutes she noticed some sort of lump on the back of her head and, panicking to herself, kept rubbing her head against the bar trying to figure out what it was. After a while she realised that the lump on the back of her head was in fact, someone else’s hand. A hand that she had been vigorously rubbing against for a couple of minutes. Yep, the stranger probably thought she had an extremely peculiar flirting technique.
To avoid this kind of awkward, unwanted contact yourself, make sure what you’re leaning on is actually a pole and not another poor human.
So there is your compact guide to surviving the metro. All jokes aside, I do actually love the transport in Toulouse, and it’s something that I’m really going to miss when I leave. But like I said at the beginning, it’s a love-hate relationship. Once you get past the peak-time hell, then getting the metro is easy peasy. If you have no choice but to board at those times, then just take my advice, and you might manage to get where you want to go in once piece.