Public transit is an essential service, and in order for it to be successful, Edmontonians must feel safe using the system. I have heard consistently from constituents that safety and security on transit is a concern and barrier to increased ridership.
While the vast majority of riders do feel comfortable, we have seen a decline in perceptions of safety over the past few years. Since the pandemic Edmonton has experienced a significant decline in the number of Edmontonians using transit, at the same time we have seen an increase in the number of community members experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges, and substance use. This has contributed to conditions where some transit riders may feel unsafe taking public transit, and where vulnerable community members may be placed in unsafe situations.
Transit Safety Plan
In response to these concerns, this week, council unanimously approved a new Transit Safety Plan and allocated $3.9 million towards implementing it.
Of particular importance is the collaborative approach being applied to this work. As part of the plan, the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Police Service and Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society will establish a tripartite leadership committee. The tripartite leadership committee will focus on coordinated strategies and responses, as well as immediate support for Edmontonians using the transit system for shelter. Areas of focus include:
Coordinating crime prevention strategies and targeted responses to criminal activity; and
Ensuring that people experiencing homelessness who use the LRT system for shelter are provided with the supports they need now, as the City and its partners work towards addiction, intervention and housing solutions.
The approach for transit safety and security includes Police officer, Transit Peace Officer and Security Guard roles.
Administration, the Edmonton Police Service and Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society will implement a joint safety operations team under a unified (shared) command system that includes Transit Peace Officers, Police Officers, Community Standards Peace Officers, outreach workers and Fire Rescue Services.
This is the first time that the City has employed a joint governance structure to increase ridership and increase safety. We are addressing transit safety from a holistic perspective, assisting vulnerable Edmontonians, while also improving our ability to react to unsafe behaviours. I believe this combined approach will return for our communities and ensure we are actually making progress on this issue, instead of masking the problem.
I have also heard concerns about the cleanliness of our transit system, and I do want to note that at the same time as we are addressing safety concerns on transit, we’re also going to be including enhanced cleaning as part of this plan.
Expanding the Community Outreach Transit Team
I am particularly encouraged by the expansion of the Community Outreach Transit Team (COTT), which started as a pilot in October 2021 as a partnership between the City and Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society.
The team is currently made up of two Transit Peace Officers and two Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society outreach workers. COTT is aimed towards increasing safety and reducing harm. The Transit Safety Plan will increase the number of COTT teams to seven.
One of the primary activities that the COTT teams will undertake is connecting Edmontonians with the supports they need - be it housing, mental health, substance use, and/or financial assistance.
Supporting Community Safety and Wellbeing
When it comes to perceptions of safety and security on transit it is important to remember that there are systemic, intersectional factors at play related to houselessness, mental health, and substance use, that should not be overlooked. These root causes ultimately need to be addressed as well by supporting more permanent supportive housing, mental health supports, safe consumption sites, and other social supports to ensure all Edmontonians have a safe place to call home with access to the supports they need to live with dignity and a sense of belonging.
This plan is a complement to the work we are doing to collaborate with Homeward Trust and 25 partner agencies to keep vulnerable Edmontonians safe and warm, including our pilot warming bus that transports people to shelter services in the city.
A Vehicle for Sustainability and Prosperity
Having a safe, accessible, and functional public transit system is an integral part of achieving our climate goals, our goals around talent attraction and retention, and our goals related to equitable access and mobility.
The Transit Safety Plan is as much an initiative for transit safety as it is community and social wellbeing. It is also closely tied to our economic wellbeing and stability as we work towards recovery. Investing in transit and initiatives that support increased ridership is a key part of attracting and retaining talent. We want Edmontonians to be able to have easy access to jobs and employment, and transit is the primary mechanism to help facilitate that access. Transportation accounts for around 30% of Edmonton's carbon emission, so supporting mode shift towards public transit also helps us build a low-carbon city.
I look forward to following this work over the coming months and welcome your ongoing feedback. Thank you to the residents of Ward Métis who have already shared their experiences on transit. Everyone deserves to feel safe in our communities, and I believe the Transit Safety Plan is a meaningful step in the right direction.
I also wanted to share the following resources for safety on transit. If you are in need of services, help is a phone call away 24/7.
Call 780-232-2782 for Bent Arrow New In Town Program On-Call
Call 211 to speak to someone about where and how to find support
OR the Distress Line at 780-482-HELP (4357)
Call 780-424-2424 for access to addiction and mental health programs
Call 911 for emergencies
If you see a person in need of services on transit, please call or text Transit Watch at 780-442-4900.