Bus 351 connects the eastern suburbs of Paris to Charles-de-Gaulle international airport in Roissy. Even in times of Covid-19, it transports freight workers, airport subcontractor employees, nursing assistants in Seine-Saint-Denis healthcare establishments … France 24 followed these French people who get up early and do not know the confinement.
Every morning, the same faces parade. Farid knows them by heart. The driver of the 351 bus connecting Place de la Nation, in Paris, to Charles-de-Gaulle international airport has been working on this line for two years. But this year, with the Covid-19, it has a special look at its passengers. “They like me, whatever happens, we get dressed in the morning and we go to work. Confinement after confinement, we are there every day. We have to keep the country going.” He said this without bitterness. But on certain days, the 46-year-old father leaves to drive his bus with a head in his stomach.
“Between drivers, we do not talk about it, but some lines are more ‘at risk’ than others.” The 351 is one of them, it serves five municipalities of Seine-Saint-Denis, a department which is suffering the full brunt of this third wave of Covid-19. With an incidence rate of 801 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, Seine-Saint-Denis is the department most affected in France by the pandemic, after Val-d’Oise, and also one of the most bereaved with more 2,044 deaths from the coronavirus recorded in hospitals since March 2020.
It is 6.30 a.m. and the passengers board the bus. The Place de la Nation is still bathed in the night and the purring of cleaning cars that shine the Parisian sidewalks. A young man enters without the mask. “It happens but I’m not here to police,” says Farid. “Sometimes, I hold out one of the masks from my personal reserve, provided by the RATP, and I don’t even speak. In general, everything goes well. Otherwise, I have a button that triggers a pre-recorded announcement to remind people that they are respecting instructions. ” That morning, the driver let it flow.
“At the nursing home, half of the residents died in the spring”
In the vehicle, Betty, 55, settled herself near the exit door. She goes to a Bondy nursing home, where she is a nursing assistant. After taking a first bus from Vitry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne), then the tram, it ends its long journey with this last section. “An hour and a half of transport is a lot. Especially when the bus is crowded like earlier in Vitry, but I have no choice”, she confides, wrapped in the hood of her down jacket. .
“I already had the Covid last year and I’m afraid of catching it again. At the nursing home, half of the residents died in the spring. Only two on my floor, but on the one below, they are all deceased. ” Betty is still scarred. However, she is afraid to be vaccinated: “No one is forcing me! Most of my colleagues have received the doses, I’m waiting for the Johnson & Johnson because I don’t want to be bitten twice.”
“It’s a miracle that I still have my job!”
From the Gallieni metro station, located in Bagnolet, the bus rushes into the territory of Seine-Saint-Denis and the back of the vehicle fills up. About ten passengers take their seats, including Moussa, in overalls. He has been an airport freight forklift operator for fifteen years. “I cannot telecommute, I handle the pallet trucks,” he says, still sleepy. His wife, unemployed, keeps his two sons, 11 and 13, whose college has closed due to the confinement in force since April 6.
“When the RER B is under construction on weekends, this bus is full, but today, it’s fine. Anyway, I have to take it, I don’t have a car”, continues the forty-something . Few people have fallen ill around Moussa, but the pandemic worries him because he is approaching 50 years. “It hurts my heart to see all these planes grounded,” he adds. “Colleagues at the airport lost their jobs, everyone who prepared meal trays for planes and cleaned on board.”
A few seats away, Franck, an employee of the commercial management of a large airline, barely looks up from his phone. “It’s a miracle that I still have my job! And that no one tells me that the recovery is tomorrow, it will take at least three or four years before the airline recovers from it”, he believes. The 48-year-old executive takes the bus to Roissy Terminal 1, where he has to jump on a plane to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on a business trip. Glued to his smartphone, he tries in vain to load the results of his negative PCR test for Covid-19, but the connection fails him. “I missed my plane yesterday because the laboratory had not published the results on time,” he laments.
Living in the eastern suburbs, he is used to this bus route, but for some time he can’t take it anymore. “I am appalled by the disrespect of those who wear their masks under their nose and under their chin. I am willing to accept restricting my freedoms, but everyone must follow the same rule”, he says before going downstairs. quickly.
“Leave transport to people who have no other choice”
“I easily let one or two buses pass if I think there are too many people,” admits Laurent, a spare parts manager in a company that manufactures components for the aeronautics industry. On trial at this company, he plans to buy a car to make his trips easier. “I easily take 20 to 40 minutes early to give myself a choice in my journey. The mask is not enough. I am 46 years old and I am in good shape. I want to stay that way. stick to other passengers. “
Sitting at the back of the bus, Denis, 22, agrees: “I’m leaving half an hour earlier to avoid rush hour,” says the young technician in charge of assembling the elevators on the terminal 2 site. of the airport. “Those who can telecommute should do so to leave transport to people who have no other choice,” said this inhabitant of Blanc-Mesnil (Seine-Saint-Denis). Official figures prove him right. In France, teleworking remains too little used, regretted last week the Ministry of Labor. Some 35% of workers who could telecommute do not.
At the Roissy terminus, Farid goes down for a coffee before leaving in the other direction, towards Paris. On his own, he leaves his bus doors open “to ventilate”: between two services, his transport vehicle is not disinfected. “Disinfection is only at night between midnight and 6 am,” he regrets. “We are not close to an aberration. Me, I open the windows and the passengers close them because it is raining or it’s too cold.” The RATP also removed the separation walls, legion during the first confinement. These Plexiglas made it possible to completely isolate the conductor from the ambient air. “I do not understand why they stopped this compartmentalization, at the same time when it is said that the variants are more contagious”, wonders Farid. Fearing an increase in contamination among drivers, the CGT RATP union was concerned about this change, as well as the re-establishment of the sale of tickets on board, forcing drivers to handle money. He called for a strike in February.
“I admit that I was relieved at the announcement of the closure of schools. It had to be done”, says Farid, whose line 351 serves on the way back to the high schools of Bondy, one of the 14 towns in France. of at least 10,000 inhabitants where the rate of Covid-19 contamination exceeds the threshold of 1,000 cases. On its route, there is also the Lycée Delacroix de Drancy, which has become infamous since 20 parents of students died from the coronavirus. “I like to be of service and they have nothing to do with it, but lately, with the high school kids on board, it was heavy. I didn’t say anything, put on my hat and kept the window open to serve. . “