$21M safety investment puts Edmonton transit on right track, councillors say

Nearly a year after city council approved $21 million for safety upgrades to Edmonton’s transit system, councillors say there’s still a ways to go before most people feel safe taking the bus or LRT. 

Councillors keep $6M a year private security guard contract despite union complaints

The Kingsway LRT station on the Metro Line is one of 25 transit centres with 24-7 private security patrols. (Codie McLachlan/CBC)

Nearly a year after city council approved $21 million for safety upgrades to Edmonton's transit system, councillors say there's still a ways to go before most people feel safe taking the bus or LRT. 

Edmonton Transit Service presented a report to council's community and public services committee Wednesday, showing cases of mischief like vandalism and graffiti at transit centres are down 50 per cent from last fall.

Public perception of safety is up four per cent in nine months, ETS manager Eddie Robar told the committee.

Coun. Bev Esslinger said she feels the technical and physical infrastructure is better but that the city has more to do. 

Safety for women in particular on transit remains a particular concern- Coun. Michael Walters

"I am concerned that a perception of safety is still not where it needs to be," Esslinger said.

Specifically, she wants the city to make the transit system more inviting for women and girls.

"They try to be home by a certain time," Esslinger said of the women she's heard from. "They try to go to certain places where they feel safe on their journey, maybe where there's more people."

Coun. Michael Walters echoed the concern that some women are reluctant to take transit at certain times of day. 

"Women in my own family who told me, as little as a week ago, that they won't ride the LRT after six o'clock because there's just not enough people on it," Walters said. "So safety for women in particular on transit remains a particular concern."

Councillors discuss transit safety during a community and public services committee meeting Wednesday at city hall. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

With the $21 million, the city has installed security cameras on all buses, LED lighting at all transit centres and is providing training for bus and LRT operators to deal with problem patrons. 

Nearly $6 million a year is going to a private security contract that puts guards at 25 transit centres on 24/7 patrol. 

Robar attributes the drop in mischief cases to the security presence. 

"Just more eyes and ears on the street, and boots on the ground to get that perception of safety up," Robar told the committee. "People have somebody to go to has certainly had an impact on that."

Mark Tetterington, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 569 in Edmonton, also attended Wednesday's meeting to express concern about the private security guards. 

Tetterington said he gets a complaint on average once a week — on performance concerns.

"They're often in the corner not really doing a whole lot of anything. I observed one just sitting down there — looked like his head was slumped like he was sleeping," Tetterington told the committee. "I kind of wonder how serious they take the job." 

Robar has said the city's corporate security branch deals with the company Securiguard to resolve issues that may arise with individual guards.

Councillors didn't ask ETS to change the private security contract, which Coun. Sarah Hamilton referred to as "passive surveillance."

Under the contract, the guards are not allowed to intervene in incidents. Rather, they are told to report cases of mischief to the transit control centre and call police when there's crime or violence.  

Walters said that human security at major transit centres makes a difference. 

"The feedback I've gotten on that has been very positive," Walters said, adding that he'll be following up with director of corporate security to learn how they deal with guards not performing well. 

"We're paying them to do a job and they should do a job, and I think mostly they are."

Still to come

The city is installing retractable bus shields, to be completed by mid-2020.

An additional 18 transit peace officers will be assigned to bus and LRT beats by the end of this year with another six to be hired in 2020.

The city is also adding road superintendents and transit Inspectors to work with operators.

Hamilton believes more technology can be used to give people ways to reach out for help, such as a transit safety app and improved cell service underground. 

"If something does happen on a train then you're between stations, you feel like there's someone you can call." 

Robar says the smart fare system, set to be in place by the end of 2020, will help prevent fare evasion and increase security. 

The city plans to consult various groups and what's needed in the future and report to council by the end of 2020 with further updates to continue to "monitor the investment in safety and security."



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