Paris Metro police transform ‘crack-smoking dens’ back into stations

Infamous stations on Lines 12 and 4 are now said to be safer after 114 drug-related arrests in the last three months, but the problem is still far from over.

Paris Metro police transform 'crack-smoking dens' back into stations
City authorities reacted to the crisis at the start of 2018 by tasking a special narcotics unit. Photo: YouTube

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.

SEE ALSO – Sliding Doors: Beware the tiny thieves on the Paris Metro

“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.”

READ FULL STORY: Paris Metro tells story of crack-fuelles metro stations of Line 12

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5 ways the Paris Metro catches out unwary tourists

As capital city public transport systems go, the Paris Metro is a good one - relatively cheap, it's also mostly efficient and quick. It does, however, have several quirks that can catch out unwary travellers and lead to fines from the notoriously unsympathetic transport police.

5 ways the Paris Metro catches out unwary tourists
Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

While the Paris Metro map is pretty easy to follow, some of the rules of the system are not so obvious. Agents of operator RATP regularly patrol the network checking tickets and if you are caught in contravention of the rules no amount of crying, playing the dumb foreigner or offering to buy them a beer will spare you from a fine.

Here are the some of the things that regularly catch out newcomers and visitors to the city.

Paris airports are not in Paris

You might naturally assume that Paris Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly airports are in Paris. But you would be wrong.

Technically both airports are in the greater Paris region of Île-de-France and if you’re travelling on the Metro or RER train network this is important, because it affects the kind of ticket you buy. A single ticket for the city, or an all-day pass for Paris, is not valid for a trip out to either airport.

While a city pass will allow you to enter the network inside Paris, it won’t be valid to exit at the airport and transport police frequently patrol there to catch out unwary tourists. Travelling without a ticket valid for your entire journey nets you a fine of €35 per passenger.

Instead you need to either buy a single ticket directly to the airport or a day pass for the whole Île-de-France region.

READ ALSO The strange rules of the Metro you should know about


Buying a ticket is not enough 

But just buying your ticket is not enough, you also need to validate it.

Tickets can be bought either in paper form from machines in the station, or in digital format on passes such as the Navigo pass or phone apps such as ViaNavigo. However you buy your tickets, every time you enter the Metro, bus, tram or RER network you need to validate your ticket (in order to stop people using a single ticket for multiple journeys on multiple days).

For paper tickets this means passing it through the machines on entry, while passes and phones can be swiped.

If you see an open gateway next to a long queue for the turnstiles it can be tempting to just walk through, but this means that you are not in possession of a validated ticket for your journey, and if you are stopped you will be fined. 

One of the very few exceptions to the ticket rule is for people who have no hands (either through amputation or medical condition) – provided they are not accompanied by a carer.

Getting lost is forbidden (sort of)

Some of the larger Metro stations like Bastille, Hôtel de Ville and (the daddy of them all) Châtelet can be confusing for newcomers, with their vast warren of tunnels. But as well as signs for the exit, keep a sharp eye out for one-way signs or arrows. Many of the tunnels have a designated direction and walking the other way is actually illegal.

Several tourists have fallen foul of this rule and been slapped with a fine by RATP agents, along with a pregnant French woman who was trying to take a short cut out of Bastille (those ticket agents really can be pitiless).

RATP says this is a safety issue and one-way systems ensure the flow of movement, and to be fair at rush hour you do need everyone to be moving in the same direction to avoid jams.

Follow the rabbit’s advice

Speaking of safety, once the train is about to leave the station a long beep indicates that the doors are about to close. Technically it is forbidden to enter the train once the beep starts, but this rule is widely ignored and many people seem to enjoy taking a balletic leap into the carriage at the last possible moment.

Once the doors actually begin to close, though, don’t be tempted to try and hold them open – the doors will carry on closing and will trap your hand/skirt/baby buggy.

That’s where a rabbit named Serge comes in.


The door of every Metro carriage has a warning sign in which a cartoon rabbit warns you either Ne monte pas après le signal sonore, tu risques de te faire très mal (Do not enter after the signal sounds, you risk being badly hurt) or, in older versions of the sign, Attention, ne mets pas tes mains sur la porte, tu risques de te faire pincer très fort (Beware, do not put your hands between the doors, you risk a very hard pinch).

Created more than 40 years ago, Serge le Lapin is now a design icon and even has his own Twitter account.

Keep a close eye on your pockets 

And it’s not just the Metro police that you need to look out for – unfortunately some of your fellow passengers may be a problem.

While it is a relatively safe city, Paris does have a serious problem with pickpockets and they frequently congregate on Metro trains or in stations, so keep an eye on your pockets and bags. For women, sexual harassment and groping is unfortunately not an uncommon experience, particularly on packed trains.

READ ALSO 14 tips to avoid pickpockets and petty thieves

It’s not uncommon to also see beggars on public transport. They are very rarely aggressive and whether you give them money or not is entirely up to you.

Anyone playing music in Metro carriages or on the platform is an unlicensed busker, but the transport network does have a system of official buskers who play in the tunnels. They have to audition to get a spot and you can hear some really good music this way. 

And keep it secular

Unfortunately it’s no use asking for divine guidance to help understand the system, praying is actually illegal on the public transport network.