Everyone deserves to feel safe while taking transit and the unfortunate reality is that currently this is not the case. I see and experience many of the concerns shared with me, and remain committed to working alongside my council colleagues to deliver the service Edmontonians expect.
Through ongoing efforts, including implementing the Enhanced Transit Safety Plan, the City of Edmonton is collaborating with partners to improve the safety, perception of safety, wellbeing and integration of services within transit spaces.
Our city is facing complex and compounding challenges including a lack of affordable housing, rising cost of living, lack of mental health support, and the opioid crisis. In many cases, the fall out of these compounding crises is reflected throughout our city, but especially throughout our transit system. The City is working with partners to ensure that transit spaces are used as intended and that transit is a safe, comfortable, and reliable way to get around.
I have outlined some of the actions we are taking below.
We are increasing the number of Community Outreach Transit Teams (COTT) serving the system. COTT pairs Transit Peace Officers with outreach workers to assist individuals and connect them with critical resources and supports. These teams are crucial in helping people transition out of transit spaces, which are not designed or resourced to support vulnerable populations.
During the winter, from 10pm to 4:30am, the City operates winter shuttle buses connecting transit centres to emergency shelter spaces, as transit spaces are not safe or appropriate for vulnerable people overnight. The City works to connect them to places that can offer a meal, a bed, basic hygiene amenities and connection to outreach workers. I am encouraged by the work these teams are doing, and believe the expansion to 7 teams is delivering promising results.
Infrastructure changes have occurred as well. This includes emergency push-alarm buttons and pull strips on the trains, which give riders a direct connection with the LRT Operator. Blue emergency help phones and wall-mounted red emergency buttons are located in several areas in the downtown core, including the entrance to the Winspear Centre, the Winspear pedway, the Edmonton City Centre pedway and the Westin Hotel pedway. When this button is pushed, it connects riders directly with ETS security personnel, and a surveillance camera automatically monitors/records the area.
Physical changes to the stations are occurring as well, including reducing the number of building niches to prevent people from sleeping and congregating in those areas. Over 500 door astragals (anti-tampering hardware) have been installed, additional locks have been added to doors, and teams have been replacing building and door glass with new break-resistant glazing.
Council is currently waiting for a report to investigate whether installing fare gates is an effective measure to deter future incidents.
The City is also collaborating with the Edmonton Police Service, with the support of other orders of governments, to increase the presence of uniformed officers in our public spaces. The City is also supporting the joint deployment of 93 Transit Peace Officers, who patrol the Transit system. Joint work spaces are being created, including at Churchill Square and Central Station. The data supports that proactive deployment of Transit Peace Officers and Edmonton Police Officers coincides with a reduction in incidents.
Given the scale of the concerns we have been experiencing related to transit, I was surprised to learn that just 21 EPS officers are dedicated to transit throughout the city, on shifts, meaning about 6 officers throughout the day. EPS plans to increase this to 50 officers by November 2024, however, it does not sound like they intend to redeploy additional officers in the meantime. Council is unable to direct police operations as there is a clear separation of authority. If you have questions regarding police presence or deployment, you may wish to reach out to the Edmonton Police Commission.
Enhanced cleaning is also taking place in transit spaces. This includes stations, in-service LRT train cleaning, and increased custodial coverage in LRT facilities, including an additional crew for spot cleaning, removal of litter, graffiti and biohazards. Washroom attendants at five locations are being deployed to prevent vandalism and reduce drug poisoning incidents.
City Council has approved amendments to the Conduct of Transit Passengers bylaw aimed at improving the safety and comfort of Edmontonians using transit services. The updated bylaw strengthens existing rules around the inappropriate and unsafe use of transit property, along with prohibiting the visible use of illicit substances in transit spaces. The amended bylaw provides Transit Peace Officers and other law enforcement personnel with an additional option that will help ensure transit is being used for its intended purpose.
It is important to note that much of the disorder we are seeing on transit is a result of larger systemic, social issues our city is facing. Most of the approaches described in this blog are addressing the symptoms, rather than the root causes of social disorder. That said, it is not sufficient to only work towards addressing root causes when there are significant and present safety concerns that demand attention today.
Community members are advised to direct complaints surrounding drug use and criminal activity to the Edmonton Police Service (911 for emergencies where life, safety, or property is in immediate danger or there is a crime in progress; 780-423-4567 for the EPS non-emergency line). Drug use on transit is not to be tolerated and needs to be reported to the proper authority to be dealt with.
The City also supports the Opioid Response Team, who are responsible for various tasks, such as responding to drug poisoning incidents and other medical emergencies, providing wound care and health assessments, offering health education and referrals, safe drug use education, and assisting in opioid treatment appointments.
Transit Watch is another way riders can report safety concerns, like harassment, disorder or suspicious behaviour, directly to the ETS Control Centre. Call or text Transit Watch at 780-442-4900, anytime. Again for emergencies, immediately call 911. ETS Text & Ride (31100).
If transit space needs cleaning you report through 311, reporting online or through the app.