British Columbia

TransLink safe despite recent assaults, officials say

A number of recent highly publicized assaults on TransLink have raised questions about how safe the Lower Mainland's transit system really is — but officials say the system is loaded with security features.

SkyTrain, buses equipped with security features

A number of recent highly publicized assaults on TransLink have raised questions about  the safety of the Lower Mainland's transit system — but officials say the system is loaded with security features.

As part of a three-part series on TransLink security, CBC News Vancouver looked at how common assaults on transit are, which stations are the most dangerous and what TransLink is doing to keep passengers safe.

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In July 2010, 65 passenger assaults and 16 operator assaults were reported. Other reported incidents include other assaults, robbery, threats and spitting.

The same statistics indicate the most incidents were reported on Surrey routes, followed by Vancouver, Port Coquitlam and Burnaby.

According to numbers from the Canadian Auto Workers Union, bus drivers reported 145 incidents of assault in 2011, ranging from verbal threats to injuries that required hospitalization. The numbers indicate about half the assaults against bus drivers occur between 12 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Stations targeted

Transit police Insp. Dave Hansen says he has 167 officers who target stations with the highest rates of crime and focus on rush hour.

2011 bus driver assault causes

  • Belligerent passenger: 43.
  • Fare-related: 29.
  • Road rage: 10.
  • Unstable/mental health issues: 7.
  • Stop request: 7.

Source: Canadian Auto Workers Union

"Number one is Broadway and Commercial [SkyTrain station]," he said. "[Then] Surrey Central, number three is Metrotown, four is Joyce and then five is Granville."

In addition to transit police, SkyTrain attendants and transit security members also patrol stations.

SkyTrain cars are equipped with silent alarms, cameras and on-train speakerphones. SkyTrain platforms are also equipped with designated waiting areas, emergency phones and closed-circuit television cameras.

Spokesperson Drew Snider says the cameras are constantly monitored by TransLink's control centre.

"If they see a situation, they can punch it up on the camera and see it on the screen," he said.

The region's buses are outfitted with about 5,000 security cameras and every bus is equipped with an on-board communication system for drivers to use in case of emergency.

'No system is airtight'

TransLink also subscribes to a text messaging service for anyone who witnesses a crime on public transit. It can be reached by sending a text to BCTIP.

2011 bus driver assaults

  • Verbal threats, spit at or on, minor injuries: 100.
  • Spit on face, injuries, possible hospital visit: 44.
  • Physical assault, injuries with hospitalization: 1.

Source: Canadian Auto Workers Union

"It goes to Crimes Stoppers so the police take it over at that stage," said Snider.

But Gavin Davies, the vice-president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 111, isn't convinced all those security measures stop bad behaviour.

"We can have cameras on our coaches and if people know nothing is going to happen to them other than a slap on the wrist, a camera won't really deter them. It's the penalties," he said.

Snider admitted the system isn't perfect but said TransLink takes passenger security seriously.

"No system is air tight," he said. "You can get cameras, yellow strips, red phones — a whole variety of systems to keep people informed, but at the end of the day, something can still happen."

A 64-year-old Vancouver man was recently arrested and charged with two counts of sexual assault after two women were groped on public transit.

In January, a female bus driver was allegedly groped by a male passenger on the #22 bus.

In October, 18-year-old Jamie Kehoe was stabbed to death during a fight on a bus in Surrey.

With files from the CBC's Leah Hendry