Edmonton transit not safe for youth, parents and guardians tell advisory board

Parents and guardians feel the LRT and bus aren't safe for youth and children to take by themselves, the Edmonton Transit Service advisory board says based on findings from two informal surveys. 

Two informal surveys conducted last summer show trepidation on transit

The Kingsway LRT station on the Metro Line is one of 25 transit centres with 24-7 private security patrols.
The city is planning crime prevention audits on 18 LRT stations and 10 transit centres this year. (Codie McLachlan/CBC)

Some parents and guardians feel Edmonton transit isn't safe for youth and children to take by themselves, the Edmonton Transit Service advisory board says based on findings from two informal surveys. 

The advisory board shared the snapshot with city council's urban planning committee on Tuesday. 

The board conducted the surveys last summer to gauge perceptions of safety on transit — one with parents and guardians and another with young people between the ages of 11 and 21.

The first question was: "Is Edmonton Transit Service safe for children to ride alone?"

Michelle Peters-Jones, vice-chair of the advisory board, said the majority of respondents said "no."

"Parents were pretty blunt: while convenient that they didn't have to drive their children to school and back every day, transit was perceived as very unsafe for young people and children," Peters-Jones said.

People cited drug use, social disorder and a lack of lighting and security as reasons for concern. 

About 60 parents and guardians responded to the survey, Peters-Jones said. The board also canvassed young people and caregivers on social media.

Some respondents said feeling OK about their children riding transit depends on the route, the time of day and the age of the child. 

Peters-Jones said many expressed fear of homeless and transient people, which the board believes stems from a lack of understanding of systemic social problems.

Taking transit is also perceived by some to be for poor or vulnerable people, she noted. 

"Some parents actually tell me very proudly, 'Oh, my child has never stepped foot on a bus.'

"That makes me very sad," she said. "That's a terrible message for an urban city to be sending to young people." 

City response

City administration is taking several steps to address safety issues through the city's safety transit plan. 

Sarah Feldman, director of business integration and workforce development with ETS, said the city is asking public communications networks companies to add cellular coverage in underground tunnels.

The city plans to add QR codes to its Transit Watch program. Users will be able to scan the code with a smart phone to send a text message to the ETS control room.

The city is also conducting audits of crime prevention through environmental design at transit centres and LRT stations.

"These types of audits focus on the built environment and they assess all elements of the transit journey," Feldman said. "These audits look at things like lighting, accessibility, functionality and opportunities for increased natural surveillance."

The aim is to finish audits of all 18 LRT stations and 10 transit centres by the end of the year. 

'Deep-seated fear'

Coun. Tim Cartmell said the perception problem is discouraging some from taking transit. 

"People have a deep-seated fear of what might happen on the transit system, even if it's the one occasion," he said. 

"Lots of these things are great in the long term, but I'm really worried about how we get short-term recovery and overcome the cynicism and the fear that a lot of people have about our system."

Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager of Edmonton Transit Service, said ETS is working with the National Transit Association on courses for drivers and peace officers. 

"They are exhausted, they are overwhelmed," Hotton-MacDonald said of operators. 

Administration is trying to support them with focus group sessions and peer support groups, she said, and they're working with the National Transit Association to develop curriculum. 

"Across the country everybody's struggling with this; it's not unique to us," Hotton-MacDonald told the committee. "Everyone is just at their wits' end about how do we adequately prepare our frontline staff for what they're encountering." 

The committee has asked administration for a progress report on the transit safety plan in June. 


Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.