Navigating the Paris metro has become a gruelling task for many commuters in the capital, with pickpocketing and sexual harassment becoming an almost routine threat for some.
Then there’s the issue of Junkie Land: mass drug consumption, dealing and ensuing violence at a handful of stations on Lines 12 and 4, an escalating problem that’s led Metro drivers to simply not stop at the worst spots in the northeast of the city for their own and their passengers' safety.
“Everyday at Marx Dormoy (on Line 12), among others, there are up to seven or eight drug addicts using illicit substances, either crack or heroin, in plain view of employees and travellers. It's intolerable,” Eric Chaplain, a Paris Metro driver told LCI back in January.
City authorities reacted to the crisis at the start of 2018 by tasking a special narcotics unit with stamping out Paris’s subway drug craze.
Over the past three months, thirty members of the police squadron have made 114 arrests on Line 12 and 4, around 40 drug dealers and 70 addicts.
“The drug users we arrest are seen by a psychologist who then directs them to institutions where they can get help,” Paris daily Le Parisien reported the city prosecutor’s office as saying.
“Failure to comply will lead to prosecution. Dealers will be automatically tried for their actions.
“We’re starting to reap the rewards of our work and have already seen an improvement in safety, but it is a long-term process.”
The crack down also has a preventative strand, with associations such as Gaia, Aurore, Charonne and Nova Donna offering counselling to addicts to try to get them off the drugs and out of the stations.
“Unfortunately, we lack places to house them during the day,” one of the associations told Le Parisien.
Security teams report that there are fewer drug groups roaming the most troublesome platforms of the network, but Paris Metro workers who’ve seen “Junkie Land” spiral over the course of many years still feel plenty remains to be done.
“Historically, line 12 has always been at the main core of drug addiction, especially Porte de la Chapelle,” Eric Chaplain, a Paris Metro driver told LCI back in January.
“There used to be a strong presence of drug addicts but there was some kind of 'respect' between them and the RATP employees.
“They knew they were taking advantage of our platforms, but at the same time, they had to respect the place, keeping it clean and appropriate, but the scourge got worse month on month and year on year.”
He said the situation really degenerated about 18 months ago.
“For example, last year, there were no fewer than 850 traffic interruptions and power cuts because drug addicts crossed the tracks, carried out their business on the tracks, or pulled the alarm to stop the trains to either sell or buy drugs,” Chaplan, who is also a representative of the trade union SUD-RATP, said.
“There are not 10,000 solutions, we simply have to 'reconquer the territory',” he added. “We have let it go for years and the only way to stop the phenomenon is to have a police presence. Obviously if they sleep, do not destroy anything, do not break anything, they will be left alone, they are human beings, and from a social point of view, these people must also be helped.”