Traffic jams choke Paris as pension strikes hobble trains

PARIS (AP) — Paris commuters inched to work yesterday through exceptional traffic jams, as strikes to preserve retirement rights halted trains and subways for a fifth straight day.

Citing safety risks, the SNCF national rail network warned travellers to stay home or use “alternative means of locomotion” to get to work yesterday instead of thronging platforms in hopes of getting the few available trains.

As a result, the national road authority reported more than 600 kilometres of traffic problems at rush hour around the Paris region — up from 150 kilometres on an average day.

The road traffic was worse yesterday than when the strike started last week, because many French employees managed to work from home or take a day off then. But that’s increasingly difficult as the strike wears on.

Fortified by the biggest nationwide demonstrations in years when the strike launched last Thursday, unions plan new protests today, and hope to keep up the pressure on the government to back down on the retirement reform.

Only about a sixth of French trains were running yesterday, and only two of Paris’ 16 subway lines were functioning normally. International lines also saw disruptions, and union activists blocked bus depots around Paris, limiting bus routes, too.

French President Emmanuel Macron summoned Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and other top officials last Sunday night to strategise for a crucial week.

The prime minister will present details of the government’s plan tomorrow. It’s not expected to change the official retirement age of 62 — but it is expected to encourage people to work longer.

The reform is central to Macron’s vision for transforming the French economy. Government ministers insist the current system is unfair and financially unsustainable, while unions say the reform attacks fundamental worker rights and will force people to work longer for less.

Trains are parked at the Hendaye train station, southwestern France on the fourth day of nationwide strikes that disrupted weekend travel around France on Sunday. PHOTO: AP