Bus shelter vandals strike during pandemic leaving 300 unrepaired in Calgary

·3 min read
Broken glass from a damaged bus shelter on Madigan Drive N.E. Calgary Transit says there are 300 shelters waiting to be fixed by Outfront Media Canada, the company that maintains the structures. (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)
Broken glass from a damaged bus shelter on Madigan Drive N.E. Calgary Transit says there are 300 shelters waiting to be fixed by Outfront Media Canada, the company that maintains the structures. (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)

The skinny metal frame of the broken bus shelter did little to block the wind for 78-year-old Elisabeth McDonald on this chilly January day in Calgary.

Every single one of the shelter's glass panes was missing, an all-too-common problem in this part of Huntington Hills. And it's gotten worse during the pandemic.

"As a senior, it's compounding many of the frustrations that you feel at this age, but it is a big one," said McDonald, sitting on a bench in the shelterless bus shelter.

"Unfortunately, over the last probably several years, there's been a lot of vandalism, glass has been shattered. The city, I imagine, it's financial, they just haven't replaced the glass."

CBC News obtained bus shelter vandalism data from the past five years after submitting an access to information request. The shelters along Fourth Street N.W. have been a favourite target for vandals, along with shelters on Centre Street N. and sections of northeast Calgary, including a stretch along Madigan Drive N.E.

Shelters along Madigan Drive have been vandalized 49 times since 2017, on Falconridge Drive vandals have struck 60 times. Centre Street had approximately 200 incidents over the past five years.

The five years of data shows a steady increase in vandalism complaints, then a steep uptick last year. From January to October, 1,214 panes were broken. That compares to 682 for all of 2020.

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

The vandalism got so bad that at one point Calgary Transit decided to try just not fixing them.

As a pilot project, they simply didn't replace glass at 13 locations in the northeast community of Mayland Heights. A transit spokesman says that pilot project ended.

But Outfront Media Canada, which has the contract to maintain shelters, isn't caught up with repairs.

Broken panes of glass at Calgary Transit shelters

Its contract, which runs through 2029, says glass must be replaced within 24 hours. Approximately 300 of the city's 1,600 shelters are currently still broken.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Mobile security cameras

Coun. Andre Chabot, whose ward includes Madigan Drive, suggests temporary security cameras be set up near shelters that are frequently targeted.

"To see if we can maybe shame somebody into stopping from doing this," he said. "This is a real problem and it doesn't reflect well on our city."

"Transit shelters are an essential shelter, to keep people out of the elements," he added. "I think this is something that might even be considered to be an urgent matter. I will speak to the mayor's office to see what she thinks we should do as far as addressing this issue."

Calgary Transit has been running an awareness campaign. A number of shelters have ads that feature a picture of a damaged bus shelter with a message that says vandalism is a crime, encouraging people to report any damage or suspicious activity.

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

Transit spokesperson Stephen Tauro says they're working with Outfront Media to get more of the shelters fixed faster. The two partners discussed the issue last week.

"We saw this spike in shelters not being replaced," said Tauro. "There's a lot of shelters without glass, so we're just really focused on creating an action plan and go forward here."

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

Tauro says the pandemic has affected the company's ability to replace the glass quickly.

"There are staffing issues due to COVID, supply issues due to COVID … these are things that we can't really control. And so we're just working with them to figure out the best option to go forward," he said.

WATCH | Was it bad near you? Click to see a heatmap showing where bus shelters were hit hardest each year (video has no sound):

Tauro says while the tempered glass panes are the safest and most economical, the city and the company are looking at other materials. No details were provided.

He says plexiglass isn't being considered because it can discolour, provides poor visibility and can be burned or etched.

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting