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Fruit stands abound within Paris Métro

Throughout the Paris Métro are ubiquitous vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vending machines on station platforms sell candy and bottled beverages. The option to quickly grab a snack is readily available to Parisians and riders of New York's subway, but not our own. Should it be?

Fruit stand at Barbès—Rochechouart station. Photos by the author.

Apples, clementines, bananas, mangoes and tomatoes are readily available at reasonable prices throughout the M´tro system, from the modern Bibliothèque François Mitterrand station on Line 14 to older stations like Barbès-Rochechouart on Lines 2 and 4.

Fruit stand at Place de Clichy station.

There are no restrictions on eating on the Paris Métro. While there is ample supply of discarded chicken bones, sunflower seeds and fast food on Washington's Metro despite a ban on food, the Paris Métro is comparatively clean, with no traces of food on the trains or station platforms.

Some of the stands are free-standing, requiring the proprietors to set them up and take them down every day. Others rent existing kiosk space. Each vendor stand has a digital scale uses to weigh your purchase. From one vendor a clementine cost 0.35 Euro, while at another stand, a clementine and green apple ran to 1.37 Euro.

Vendor at Bibliothéque François Mitterrand station.

Two years ago, a New York State Senator proposed a law that would ban eating on New York's MTA. The law was widely opposed, even by MTA's chief, and did not pass.

Even with a ban on eating, Metro still employs a rodent exterminator, who the Post recently profiled. Is Paris' Métro clean while Washington's Metro is dirtier, despite a ban on food here and not there, a result of varying cultures?

Is it time for the Washington Metro to change its orientation towards food, or is the ban appropriate? Would you patronize a fruit and vegetable stand at Metro Center, L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn?

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


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I would settle for water fountains for hot summer days.

As for eating on the metro, WMATA is leaving a massive opportunity open for selling vending locations (however small) on metro stations. Dutch railways stations have turned in to food courts over the last two decades, and it is massively profitable.

On the other hand, if all you can get is KFC and Subway, than preferably not. Fast food is a mess, and it stinks. I do not want to share the smell of fried anything while trying to hold to a diet, nor do I want to sit in someone else's spilled mystery sauce from their sandwich.

If metro allows eating, they need to start a massive cleaning program and provide many trash cans.

by Jasper on Apr 21, 2014 12:07 pm • linkreport

I wonder if the CFA would think it undignified? If they do allow it, which I'd favor, kiss all the fabric surfaces good by for reasons Jasper makes obvious.

by Thayer-D on Apr 21, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

I said it tongue-in-cheekily on Twitter, but I actually stand by it: it's the headways. Trains come remarkably frequently on the Paris Metro, so nobody's standing around in one place eating for more than a few minutes.

Here, on the other hand, you've often got a good 20-30 minutes to lick clean every last chicken bone, finish the fries, drain the soda, and then still wait for a single damn train to arrive.

If people don't have to wait, they won't be able to eat and wait.

by LowHeadways on Apr 21, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport

I think this wildly overstates the amount of food and food waste one sees on the Metro in DC. And it's partially a cost issue. The more food you introduce onto the Metro, the more cleaning you have to be willing to do.

by Crickey7 on Apr 21, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

Hmm, what else don't you see in Europe? People eating food on the go.

@Jasper; if you remember WMATA looked at the retail lease thing and came up with some tiny numbers. I think the informed consesus was they didn't have the backbone in place to do leasing correctly.

And yes, I don't understand why book drops for libraries, redbox, drycleaners, etc are all not at metro stations.

by charlie on Apr 21, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

I've used the NY and Boston systems quite a bit. In Boston, there are food vendors prominent in the larger stations. I enjoyed the smoothies and fresh fruit in Harvard Square. Alewife had entire sit-down restaurants in addition to various smaller vendors. Dunkin Donuts was ubiquitous, as it is, after all, Boston. Food trucks congregated around Kendall. There were steady discussions of whether a taqueria would be a good addition in the formal T stations, but in general, the fruit stand was not a snack counter. Instead, it served as a 'on the way home' grocery option in addition to the dairy and minimal groceries at CVS, the bakeries, and some other specialty vendors. In short, it saved a trip to Star Market or Chinatown, for heavy duty grocery shopping that typically required a taxi ride to get the food home.

The smoothies, on the other hand, were a great snack option for the ride.

by BenK on Apr 21, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

Yes yes yes! Please!

(and fruit stands and newsstands on the streets, too)

by nativedc on Apr 21, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

Seoul has some amazing shopping experiences right in their subway system, including a cyber grocery store.

by Richard on Apr 21, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

Is Paris' Métro clean while Washington's Metro is dirtier, despite a ban on food here and not there, a result of varying cultures?

I think it's exactly that- different cultures. A parallel to this would be gun violence, where Canada has relatively lax gun control laws, but their firearm homicide rate is drastically lower than ours. We shouldn't expect similar results here because the culture is different, and the same goes for allowing food on Metro. From what I've seen the NYC Subway isn't all that clean, although I can't speak for other transit agencies that allow food.

by Jason L. on Apr 21, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

I actually think the DC Metro is pretty clean. I don't know if the ban on food or drink has anything to do with it. I do see some stations that have more litter than others, but I think that may be an artifact of the people who are most likely to enter and exit that station, rather than the rules themselves.

The New York subway is pretty dirty. There is a lot of litter. Especially in the tracks, which seems to be largely absent from DC. The Paris subway is also pretty dirty. Not as much litter, but plenty of graffiti, weird smells, rats and random puddles of liquid of unknown origin. The Paris metro also has issues with people breaking all manner of rules and etiquette, so much so that they had to publish a book of 12 "commandments" that Metro riders should follow while on the system. "No eating on the trains" is one of them, though I'm not sure if it's an official rule or not.

But realistically speaking, I'm not sure if this conversation is worth having as the Metro board has repeatedly declined to entertain bids on food-related retail for inside the stations -- GGW itself reported on this back in 2010. I'm also unsure if the much-touted DVD rental (Blockbuster and Movie Solutions, surprisingly no Redbox) and trolley ticket kiosks ever materialized. WMATA is just now getting around to selling Smartrip cards in stations (despite charging people extra for not using a Smartrip).

by Scoot on Apr 21, 2014 1:14 pm • linkreport

Drinks yes, food no. Its a means of transportation not a public plaza. I've ridden the subway in New York enough to know we don't want to go down that route. I'm sure it varies from station to station but a lot of the Metro in DC is actually kept pretty clean in my experience. I don't think we should lower our standard to the dirtiest of stations but figure out how we can make the subpar stations nicer.

by BTA on Apr 21, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

I am proud that our Metro train system is so clean. Tourist are often amazed. Why would we spoil this? BTW I am all for licensed food trucks, grocery trucks, and retail news trucks getting preferred parking outside of Metro stations. Use the revenue to step up enforcement against eating INSIDE the system.

by tour guide on Apr 21, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

When I was a student at Harvard, I literally went to the subway station to buy my fresh fruit. There was a stand there (outside the turnstile, you didn't have to buy a subway ticket) that was the most convenient place for me to buy fresh fruit. It was wonderful.

The Boston subway did not strike me as particularly dirty, despite the availability of food everywhere. If you are going to play the "cultural differences" card, you need to explain why DC is different from Boston, not just Paris.

by Hadur on Apr 21, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

I think that recent article in the Post about garbage on the mall provides a good view of what would happen (especially during the summer months) if we allowed eating in metro stations.

by 7r3y3r on Apr 21, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

I have to second the comment about how dirty the Paris Metro is. While I would like to eat on the Metro, I do like that it's clean. London allows food and there is always one or two empty bottles rolling around the cars ... Metro has the same problem, which could be solved with some trash cans!

by Thad on Apr 21, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure I see why you need food vendors inside vs just allowing them outside? There is actually not all that much real estate in most Metro stations to accomodate many vendors without inhibiting traffic flow. While it's always interesting to revisit these debates, I just don't see the upside to allowing food inside the Metro. What would be nice is if many more of the remote stations had some more seating and maybe encourage some mobile type vendors to set up shop there. Seems to work well in Crystal City and Ballston in addition to most of the DC stations to some extent. I can't imagine a standard metro ride exceeds much over 40 minutes or so. If you can't find time to eat around that period, you need to manage your schedule better.

by BTA on Apr 21, 2014 2:13 pm • linkreport

If the ONLY food the stands sold were fresh fruits and veggies, I think it would be worth trying out as a pilot to see if it increased litter. While folks may be concerned about someone chomping on a bunch of celery (*not* wrapped with bacon) while on metro, the reality is that most of these fruits/veggies won't be consumed on metro and many of the ones that are wouldn't be that messy (unless tomatoes take off as a hand fruit). Yes, you'd have to worry about people slipping on banana peels and apple cores getting littered but 1) fresh produce isn't often littered (could be something about the produce-eating demo or something about eating produce in general), 2) rules against eating on metro should continue to be enforced, and 3) we should be encouraging greater consumption of produce for health reasons.

I also agree that selling non-food items in stations would be a good idea where space permits.

Btw, the reason Metro removed all its trash cans at platforms is for anti-terrorism reasons. Regardless of the wisdom of that, it's not getting reversed anytime soon.

by Falls Church on Apr 21, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

@ charlie:Hmm, what else don't you see in Europe? People eating food on the go.

Eh, well, I do see those in Europe. In the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the UK. In all those places, stations have turned into food courts that happen to have trains coming through them.

Europeans eat different stuff though. More sandwiches. Less fast food, although there is plenty of that.

And you can drink too. I remember getting in a German train to or from Cologne on a day that many fans were coming to support their team. Never seen so many empty beer cans in a train.

Here's a link to the stores in Utrecht Centraal, one of the busiest stations on the Netherlands.
(check under 'Winkels en restaurants'. You don't need to know a lot of Dutch to recognize the many food places.
And here's the list for Breda, a normal sized town.

Here's the link for Kings Cross in London:


by Jasper on Apr 21, 2014 2:19 pm • linkreport

There's been an ongoing decrease in the cleanliness of Metro cars over the past few years, and a lot of it is due to Metro's refusal to enforcing the rules against eating and drinking. I oppose any proposal that would make the situation even worse.

by cminus on Apr 21, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

I've told other riders to stop eating on the Metro. There can't be a cop in every car.

by Crickey7 on Apr 21, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

As far as I can tell, WMATA makes no effort at all to enforce the no eating/no drinking rule. On my daily commute, I see someone eating or drinking almost every day, but I've never seen any enforcement.

My preference would be for WMATA to start enforcing the rules. But if they're not going to do that, then they should loosen the rules.

by Rob on Apr 21, 2014 5:33 pm • linkreport

I concur that the Paris Metro is not clean, and certainly not as clean as our Metro. It's not that there is food scattered all over the ground, but instead that the system reeks of urine in many places. Some of the strangest smells I've ever encountered in Europe have been in the winding pedestrian tunnels of the Paris Metro.

That being said, I'd love to see some non-fast food options in the Metro, even a counter for Cosi or Potbelly. The Paul chain might have an upscale reputation in the DC area (Tysons Galleria, e.g.), there are quite a few limited-service Paul locations in Paris Metro stations, without seating of course.

by Peter L on Apr 21, 2014 7:16 pm • linkreport

I have one word to say: rats. As in, DC has a rat problem and allowing food on the Metro will attract the rats into the stations and tunnels. I've seen the rats in the NYC subway, and they scamper along the tracks and saunter up to the trash cans on the platforms as if they belong there. (Did everyone see the video of a rat that got onto a train the other day?) I agree that bottled drinks should be allowed on the DC metro, but I do not support allowing food on the platforms or on the trains. There are spaces within stations, but outside the faregates, which could house newstands or small retail storefronts (even a vending machine-type setup like Redbox) but that is a different question.

by grumpy on Apr 21, 2014 9:47 pm • linkreport

One point that never gets considered in the food or drink on Metro debate is how the ban puts transit at a competitive disadvantage here with walking and driving where people can and do consume beverages or food.

The ban also limits WMATA's ability to lease concession space and earn revenue. Concessions with fresh fruit or take home meals would again improve Metro's competitive edge with other commutation modes. Take a look at the grocery and high-end carryout food available on the upper level at Grand Central Terminal in NYC sometime.

I support lifting the food and beverage ban.

by Mr. Transit on Apr 22, 2014 8:40 am • linkreport

@ Mr Transit:the ban puts transit at a competitive disadvantage here with walking and driving where people can and do consume beverages or food.

Yeah, cuz driving while eating a burger is great! Not dangerous at all. And I rarely see people walk and eat, or even drink. Let alone bikers eating. Only when I watch professional biking.

by Jasper on Apr 22, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

I miss the days when metro enforced the food ban, things were a lot cleaner. And ever been in the London tube? Scary huge rats walking around in full light, munching on the food litter. I haven't taken the Paris metro, so I'll have to go on what's reported, but I tend to think we'd end up more like London or NY (but with less maintenance) than like Paris.

by Mike on Apr 22, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

I highly suspect that ability to consume food ranks just about last in the list of reasons people use to decide whether or not to take transit. What they should do is incorporate some retail space into new station designs to allow people to set up shop even in an open air environment. Keeping the actual Metro itself clean is already an uphill battle.

by BTA on Apr 22, 2014 12:18 pm • linkreport

Because they're too colorful for our grim subway!

by Capt. Hilts on Apr 22, 2014 9:38 pm • linkreport


Are you serious? "Scary huge rats"? The London Underground is absolutely spotless -- the only real "rubbish" consists of free newspapers. If you want to see big rats, go to New York. It is possible to maintain a clean system without a ban on food -- visit London and Paris.

by James on Apr 22, 2014 10:06 pm • linkreport

I'm curious how these markets would do in DC. Unlike NYC, London, Paris, the DC metro is more of a suburban commuter rail/urban rail hybrid. The system is busy at rush hour and under capacity the rest of the time, barring special events on the mall. The Paris Metro is 133 miles long and had 1.5 billion passengers in 2012. The DC Metro is only a little shorter at 106 miles long, but had only 212 million passengers in 2012. I think this is similar to why Paris and NYC have much more active street level amenities ( musicians, news stands, vendors,etc.) There is an enormous density in scale, density and urban pace. Perhaps a couple high traffic stations could support them?

by chris on Apr 23, 2014 12:14 am • linkreport

The Washington Metro is pretty clean but not as clean and well maintained as it was 20 years ago. It used to be the case that no one left newspapers behind; now the free Express-type papers are left to litter the cars. Metro has clearly slashed its cleaning budget. For this reason, I continue to support the food ban. Metro can barely keep up now and adding to their cleaning burden would make for a dirtier systerm.

by Sarah on Apr 24, 2014 11:15 pm • linkreport

Sorry, but Paris metro is not the system to emulate, it is filthy. And I remember vividly observing food packaging and empty bottles rolling around in London subway and thinking how disgusting this was. We are lucky to have a relatively clean system, and we should keep it that way.

A lot of European train stations function as food courts, sure, but they were designed for this purpose - with lots of room for shops and stalls, none of which DC Metro has.
Why not just allow fresh fruit/vegetable vendors OUTISDE the Metro stations? I wouldn't mind grabbing some fresh produce on my way home from work, and the metro system would remain relatively clean.

by Neva on May 1, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

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