Paris Metro and the ‘bis’ lines

On my trip to Europe I didn’t ride on the Paris Metro, but none the less there was one aspect of it that intrigued me – the ‘3bis’ and ‘7bis’ lines.

Photo via Clicsouris on Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Clicsouris on Wikimedia Commons

On the Paris Metro every line has a number – from 1 to 14, with proposed lines 15 through 18 also on the drawing board. However, the ‘3bis’ and ‘7bis’ lines stand outside this pattern.

Wikipedia has this to say on Line 3bis:

With a length of 1.3 kilometres (0.81 mi) and only four stations, the line is the shortest on the Paris Metro. It is also the least used line, with just over 1.5 million passengers in 2003.

The line was constructed during the 1910s as an extension to line 3, but the two were disconnected in 1971 and from then on Line 3bis was operated separately.

And for Line 7bis:

With a length of 3.1 kilometres (1.9 mi) and only eight stations, Line 7bis is the second shortest and second quietest line on the Paris Metro, with less than 4 million passengers per year in 2003.

The section was put into service in 1911 as a branch of the line 7. It was disconnected in 1967 due to a significant imbalance of traffic and became an independent line.

With both metro lines being branches from a main line, it explains the ‘bis’ name a little. Checking the dictionary sheds a little more lght:

bis

Definition: (adv) – (music) repeat, again, encore; (address) ½, a

À la fin du concert, le groupe a joué deux bis – At the end of the concert, the group played two encores

Il habite 43 bis, rue verte. – He lives at 43½ (or 43a) Green Street

un itinéraire bis – detour, diversion

Diversion – that’s about right.

Other usages

House numbers are another common usage of bis:

Have you ever noticed a number in France followed by bis or ter, particularly on an entrance or gate? Well, it means that a house or property has been divided up, so it’s like our a or b. He lives at 3a = Il habite au 3bis. Bis comes from Latin – twice – while ter means three times.

As well as technical standards:

For example, modem standards are indicated as being V.21, V.22 or V.22 bis.

I have also seen bis on the Paris Metro.

In both cases, the context seems to imply a meaning such as “extension”.

And back roads through the countryside:

A few years ago husband and I did a driving trip through France and were advised to follow routes which were signposted with a green sign with the word “BIS” on it. These routes were developed to get travellers thru the country in heavy travel periods without clogging up the entire road system. We had such a great and easy time driving just following these signs – they’d name a town and point in a direction and off you’d go. Frequently on roads which were lightly travelled. Does anyone know if these routing features still exist?

Yes, the are called “intinéraires bis”. The green sign always indicate the “long road” as opposed to the motorway.

Footnote

Over the years proposals have been made to merge Line 3bis and 7bis of the Paris Metro: initially as Line 15, and now as Line 19.

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