This is part 3 of a three-part series on LRT transit safety in Edmonton. This topic will also be explored on television on Global News Hour at 6 Edmonton from April 27-29. Part 1 focuses on pilot experience. Part 2 explores the impact of the LRT on surrounding neighborhoods and general community safety. Part 3 features the Edmonton City Council and Police as the two groups explore solutions.
What will the City of Edmonton do to help people feel safe?
It’s an urgent call that Global News heard from many LRT riders during a three-part series on transit safety.
Those concerns have intensified in recent days following what police believe was an unprovoked attack on an Edmonton senior.
The woman was pushed from the Jubilee LRT platform onto the tracks on Monday.
Man charged after ‘unprovoked attack’ on senior at Edmonton LRT station
At a transit safety news conference on Thursday afternoon, a city official said she was concerned about the well-being of everyone using the LRT system, but insisted that the system was “safe”.
“We take the safety of our passengers and staff very seriously,” said Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, Branch Manager for Edmonton Transit Service.
“We have a lot of eyes on the system and we have zero tolerance for harassment, criminal activity, causing harm to others or any other form of violence in transit.”
The city is expected to provide a transit safety update to city council on May 24.
Look for solutions
On Wednesday, Global News asked Mayor Amarjeet Sohi how his council would take action to make people feel safer on the LRT in the short term.
“We worked with the Edmonton Police Service to have this presence at LRT stations. We have hired more transit security officers,” he said. “We have surveillance through our cameras.
“We need to do more and we are ready to do more.”
On Thursday, the mayor posted a statement on Twitter regarding LRT safety in which he said “everyone deserves to feel safe when traveling through our city.”
A number of LRT riders have told Global News they would like to see immediate action to improve the sense of safety on public transport.
Some believe this would be achieved with the return of previous loitering rules or by building tariff barriers.
Sohi said he understands the current loitering regulations allow transit or security officers to remove people who pose safety concerns from the system.
The mayor said he also agrees with LRT riders that the city “absolutely needs to up our game when it comes to safety.”
“I think checking rates is something we need to think about,” Coun said. Tim Cartmel. “The problem is that sometimes these small offenses are used by (partial) authorities to persecute or prosecute people.”
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Sohi said that even if these changes are made, they are “band aid solutions” to much bigger problems.
He said it all relates to housing, mental health and addictions issues – all of which are the responsibility of the provincial government.
“Unfortunately, the province has not stepped in to provide that support,” he said.
“We will continue to implore them to do what they need to do.”
In a statement, the province responded by highlighting previously announced funding to support cities like Edmonton. He also highlighted the support of the 2022 budget.
“First and foremost, anyone who takes public transportation should feel safe,” the statement said.
“The Government of Alberta is also making significant investments to provide treatment for addictions and help them find the path to recovery and wellness. Our government has given police the tools to refer people to drug treatment. We see the police as part of the solution to public safety concerns shared by Edmontonians.
“Public safety is a city responsibility, and it should be funded appropriately by the mayor and council.”
Past present Future
Former city councilor Michael Walters said he believed historically council and city government feared creating “a perception of danger on the transit system” that could scare off potential riders.
“What I see these days is what I call excessive confusion between trying to make public transit safer and trying to address the long-term root causes of poverty, mental health and drug addiction,” he said.
Global News asked Cartmell if he thinks the council is worried about making a controversial move to address the transit safety issue.
“I do. But from what I understand, looking at other cities that have gone through this, the focus has been on finding the root causes,” he said. Or not chasing people too much.I think most of us believe in supporting – in any way possible – a vulnerable person.
“But I also think most of the people I represent want to get back to some level of responsibility. Yes, there will be voices that don’t want to see that reaction, but I think it’s necessary.
“I think what we lost along the way was a safety-first approach.”
Staff Sgt. Mike Zaparyniuk is responsible for the EPS Crime Suppression Unit and the ETS Crime Reduction Security Project.
His team reviewed all LRT stations and Edmonton’s 12 largest transit terminals, assigning them to EPS members.
“So now, as part of the regular duties of members of each division, they have ownership of these locations,” Zaparyniuk said. “That means they’re spending more proactive time on these sites, with a zero-tolerance policy.”
Judith Gale of the Bear Clan Patrol works with vulnerable people. She said this group also wanted to feel safer.
She thinks a section of the LRT tunnel system should be open to people seeking shelter, instead of letting them spread all over the LRT.
“We have to make sure they’ll be safe together and come out alive on the other end,” Gale said.
Have other cities found the answer to transit problems?
Metro Vancouver Transit police told Global News that the SkyTrain system is generally considered safe by its thousands of users, although it has seen “somewhat” an increase in “stranger assaults”.
const. Amanda Steed is a media relations officer for the Metro Vancouver Transit Police. She said she noticed a change in security levels once a text message service was introduced, allowing passengers to report disturbances anonymously to transit police. One of its 183 sworn members can be dispatched to attend the roll call.
“Our tariff barrier system is quite new,” she said. “But I don’t think the doors will stop (people not paying). Enforcement in terms of not being ticketed has increased.
Steed said the most frequent calls were related to mental health and substance use, but overall it’s rare for runners to encounter any issues.
What’s next for LRT in Edmonton?
A costly expansion of the LRT system is coming to Edmonton. Sohi, Cartmell and Walters said they expected heavy traffic.
“Overall, more people are using our transit system,” Sohi said. “Our overall ridership is picking up.
“The more people on the system, the safer it is for everyone. That doesn’t mean we’re not increasing enforcement. I think that complements having more eyes on the system.
But the LRT in its current state is scary, according to some users.
“We’ve seen our homeless population double,” Sohi said. “It won’t be like that in the future. We tackle societal issues and we encourage the province to be a partner. We are building a system that will be around for decades and decades into the future.
Transit Watch’s phone number is 780-442-4900 and can be called or texted to reach the Transit Control Center 24/7.
In the event of an emergency, passengers are encouraged to call 911.
–With Kirby Bourne file, 630 CHED
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