City working to get Edmonton transit system back on track
Edmonton mayor, ETS branch manager announce more measures to restore ridership confidence
The City of Edmonton is working to make its public transit system safer following recent violence and disorder that has shaken riders.
A shocking scene greeted people who boarded the LRT at Churchill Station late Wednesday afternoon: a mallet laid on one of the seats, along with a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread and a popsicle melting on the floor.
A huge mound of clothes and a dirty backpack were on the floor. A naloxone kit sat on an adjacent seat.
"I was pretty disturbed to see that kind of disorder on the LRT train," said Mayor Amarjeet Sohi. CBC News shared photos of the scene with Sohi.
Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) branch manager, had a similar reaction.
"I was infuriated," Hotton-MacDonald said. "It makes it very, very difficult for riders to use the service when they see those things and when this is happening."
The scene depicted in the photographs is definitely not the norm, she said.
"It's a very stark reminder to me that people are using LRT as shelter and are in need of better supports."
Sohi believes disorder on transit is a symptom of larger issues related to affordable housing and mental health, for which he blamed the Alberta government.
"As a municipality, we're picking up the pieces of the consequences of the lack of investment from the provincial government," he said.
Providing mental health supports, as well as ending homelessness and the drug poisoning crisis, are provincial jurisdiction, he added.
Rob Williams, press secretary for the minister of transportation, said the 2022 provincial budget maintained funding for homeless shelters on top of an annual $29 million a year to Homeward Trust Edmonton for programming, including supportive housing.
The province has also made significant investments in providing treatment to people with addictions and has given police tools to connect people to treatment, Williams said in an emailed statement.
"We view the police as part of the solution to the public safety concerns being shared by Edmontonians. Public safety is a responsibility of the city, and it should be funded appropriately by the mayor and council."
Aftermath of LRT violence
Tensions are running high in the city after a 78-year old woman was pushed onto the LRT tracks Monday night by a stranger. The woman was seriously injured in the attack at the Health Sciences/Jubilee LRT station.
Her alleged attacker has been arrested and is also accused of assaulting a man with a weapon the next day at a different LRT station.
"Illegal activity is not welcome on our transit system," Sohi said. "There is no tolerance for violence or threatening behaviour on our transit system."
Edmonton police have been called to LRT stations and transit centres 561 times so far this year, police data shows.
More than half of the occurrences have related to violence, disorder or weapons.
Police have responded to the Coliseum LRT station 84 times this year, the most of any station. Churchill has had the second-most occurrences with 73.
In response to concerns raised by the public following this week's violence, the City of Edmonton is bolstering its transit safety program, introduced in February.
The three-year, $3.9-million program will now include an opioid response team and five more community outreach transit teams, according to the city.
Five more transit peace officers will start in June. Two more security dispatchers, who will work at the 24/7 transit control centre, are being added too, Hotton-MacDonald said.
Next week, the city will announce a reopening plan for transit station washrooms, which will include safer access, she said.
"We are listening and know that additional support is needed," Hotton-MacDonald said. "Overall, I absolutely believe our system is safe. I think there's more we can do to make it even safer."
ETS has over 130,000 rides per day. The vast majority of them are safe, she said.