Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The transit workers’ union says some stations on Line 12 are too dangerous to stop at. What will the city do?
In one section of the Paris metro, drug dealing and abuse has gotten so bad that some train drivers are refusing to stop at stations. Following a bad year for accidents and assaults, the trade union that represents workers of Paris transit body RATP warned last week that the North Paris stations on Metro Line 12—notably Marx Dormoy, Porte de la Chapelle and Marcadet – Poissonniers—are now so overrun with people selling and smoking crack that drivers no longer feel safe dropping off or picking up passengers there.
While regular services continue, some drivers have admitted that if fights or disturbances appear to have broken out on the station platform—or if too many addicts are massed on the platform—they will drive straight through to the next stop. It’s an occurrence they say is becoming more frequent.
If the protest from employees is new, problems with crime and public order in this part of Paris are not. The area where the stations are located has been one of Paris’s poorest ever since it was built up in the 19th century—nowadays much of its population is people whose families have arrived within the past 50 years from Africa (both North and Sub-Saharan) and, in the area’s southern reaches, South Asia. Straddling the train tracks trailing out of the Gare du Nord, the attractive but rundown streets around the Paris quarter of Goutte d’Or are one of the few pockets of Paris proper that have remained affordable—and as a result have, to residents’ chagrin, become a sort of corral for petty crime problems more rigorously combated elsewhere in the city. In fact, some residents complain that their relatively low social status has led the authorities to disregard problems with street crime that affect their safety and quality of life for too long.
When it comes to public drug sale and use, something is still shifting, and conditions are getting worse. Last year, there were 850 service interruptions on Line 12, caused variously by the electric current being cut off as people crossed the tracks, pulled the alarm lever to stop the train while deals were made. With six assaults on staff in the final third of 2017, it’s understandable if RATP employees are wary. As Eric Chaplain, a driver on line 12, told French news channel LCI, it seems that a sort of uneasy truce between drug users and the transit system has broken down:
Historically, Line 12 was always a hub for drug abuse, notably around Porte de la Chapelle, even after the line was extended. At that time, there was a major presence of drug users, but there was a sort of “respect” between them and RATP staff. They knew very well that they benefited from our platforms but that, at the same time, they had to respect the place, so it stayed clean and useable. But the nuisance has got worse from month to month, and from year to year.
It’s this escalation that sparked last week’s union communiqué, sent to France’s Interior Minister, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, and Valérie Pécresse, premier of the Île-de-France region in which Paris is located. The wording also suggests that employees feel that RATP itself is letting them down. So what’s the solution?
It’s not uncommon for drug users to shelter in the relative warmth of public transit systems, especially if their corridors are only lightly surveilled—and as the driver quoted above notes, some form of uneasy coexistence can even be reached, at times. But when the problem has reached levels where even train drivers feel insecure, something needs to change. A roundtable discussion between the unions, transit bosses, and the police is planned for Friday, but so far the official silence on the matter has been striking. Neither Paris police headquarters nor Hidalgo had made any comment on the situation. Both transit employees and residents in the Goutte d’Or will, it seems, have to wait a little longer before their fears are assuaged.