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Parisian commuters get ready to walk, rent bikes with strike halting most French train traffic
High Speed trains sit in the Part-Dieu train station in Lyon, central France, during a public transport strike, in this Oct.18, 2007 file photo. France's train traffic was expected to come to a near-halt Tuesday evening with the start of open-ended transit strikes seen as a crucial test of President Nicolas Sarkozy's reformist mettle. - photo by Associated Press
    PARIS — Strikers shut down much of France’s national rail service after rush hour Tuesday night, and millions of Paris commuters prepared to go without subways when the city’s train crews join the walkout.
    People planned to use the capital’s new bicycle rental service, share cars or stay home during the Wednesday subway strike. Others said they would walk.
    Xavier Basset, an accountant, faced a nearly four-mile walk across Paris to his office. ‘‘I’ll work on my calves,’’ he said.
    Unlike recent limited transportation strikes, rail unions set no time limit for the shutdown called to protest the conservative government’s move to eliminate special rules that allow train drivers and certain other public workers to retire early.
    President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government insists the pension rules are outdated, unfair and too costly. Several opinion surveys suggest Sarkozy has public support. He vowed Tuesday not to give in to trade unions, which have defeated previous government attempts to loosen work rules.
    Sarkozy stresses ‘‘his determination to carry out this reform’’ and hopes to implement them quickly, presidential spokesman David Martinon said.
    Rail traffic shut down across France late Tuesday, and the SNCF rail network said only 15 percent to 20 percent of trains on major lines would run during the strike. It said traffic would likely be disrupted through the weekend and urged travelers to postpone trips.
    With Paris subway workers set to join in, the city’s public transit authority, RATP, predicted almost no trains would run on most routes starting Wednesday. Only one line was expected to run normally, as it is automated.
    High demand was expected for the more than 10,000 bikes recently installed by city officials at 750 spots across Paris to encourage a reduction in car use. The bikes, which can be left at any of the stations, proved extremely popular during a short transit strike last month, when the number of daily users doubled to 180,000.
    Officials said they would deploy 260 workers armed with metal cutters to retrieve bikes from anyone who tried to hog them all day. The bicycles are intended to be used for short trips, and rental prices skyrocket as the clock ticks — usually enough to deter riders from hoarding bikes, but not on strike days.
    Parisians with a spare bicycle or motor scooter were renting them out on a Web site that promised they could ‘‘earn money thanks to the strike.’’
    Motorcycle taxis, able to weave through snarled traffic, looked like a good solution. Managers for two motorcycle taxi services said they were completely booked through early Friday. Car shares were another option.
    While the transit walkout would have the biggest impact, employees of state-run electricity, gas and other services were expected to join the strike.
    Electricity workers said they would cut power to local offices of Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party, and they threatened ‘‘Robin Hood’’ operations — restoring power to households that cannot afford their electricity bills.
    The Comedie Francaise theater and Paris’ National Opera, whose employees also would be affected by the pension change, canceled Wednesday performances.
    Young people also joined the fray, angry over a new law to give public universities the power to raise tuition and accept private donations. Student leaders say that will keep the poor out of college.
    As of Tuesday, students at 26 of France’s 85 universities had voted to strike, said UNEF, the leading student union.
    Students wielding metal bars kept administrators from entering buildings Tuesday at a university in the northwestern city of Rennes, where protests forced a suspension in classes.
    In Nanterre, in Paris’ western suburbs, riot police fired tear gas at youths and succeeded in opening doors of the university there. But classes remained canceled.
    Associated Press writers Laurent Pirot, Jean-Marie Godard and Elizabeth Ryan contributed to this report

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