Calgarians call for better security approach on Calgary Transit, say safety is getting worse
As a regular Calgary Transit rider with a background in harm reduction for people experiencing homelessness, Indira Smith has never been concerned about her personal safety on transit — until last week.
She was walking down the staircase at Crowfoot Station when she says she was "completely overcome by something."
"I just immediately started coughing, like it was uncontrollable. I couldn't stop myself," said Smith.
She and three other people at the station, who also couldn't stop coughing, had no idea what was causing their physical reaction. When Smith texted Calgary Transit to report the issue, they replied saying emergency services was on the way. No one had arrived by the time she got on the train.
"That's concerning to me. It makes me wonder why there isn't even security staff available on site," said Smith, who's now reconsidering how to travel to and from work.
Smith is one of several people who have reached out to CBC Calgary with concerns about safety at CTrain stations. She says she's especially worried about what children have to witness.
To improve the problem, she says Calgary Transit needs better approaches to security, including more presence of security personnel who are trained to talk to people using drugs and intervene during emergencies.
"It's not about removing people — it's just about making the spaces safe for people."
Safety is getting worse, says one transit rider
Virginia Boschi also says she's feeling less safe when using Calgary Transit lately.
"It is definitely getting worse," she said.
In multiple instances, she's been sworn at and threatened to be hurt at CTrain stations, she says.
Similar to Smith, Boschi says when she calls for help, it doesn't arrive on time. There have also been times that people were intentionally blocking the help button, she says.
She says Calgary Transit needs to have on-site staff at each CTrain station who are trained to intervene. She says the new ambassador pilot program isn't very helpful because all they can do is call for help if there's an emergency.
"If there is a person, first of all, if something happened, you have a witness," she said. "If I have to do something like push a button and they see you, you're in danger."
Boschi points to other countries she's lived in — like Italy and England — who have staff members and turnstile gates to keep riders safe.
Calgary Transit supports task force
Amalgamated Transit Union Canada, a union that represents transit workers in Canada — including Calgary Transit staff — is calling for a national task force involving all levels of government to tackle violence against riders and workers on public transit systems across the country.
It was spurred by rising violence on transit systems in Toronto, Halifax, Saskatoon and Vancouver, as well as a "strong uptick in Alberta," CBC previously reported.
Mike Mahar, president of the local branch, says a task force is important because the job can be dangerous.
"Operators are fearful for the most part while they're operating," said Mahar.
"We've had countless members leave the job because of it. We've also had, unfortunately, members that are permanently disfigured physically and mentally, and have career-altering and career-ending injuries."
Sharon Fleming, director of Calgary Transit, says it's an opportunity to collaborate with other transit agencies across the country.
"We're continuously reaching out to learn from each other and a coordinated task force would be very welcome," said Fleming.
In the meantime, she says Calgary Transit is doing a number of things to improve safety — including hiring more peace officers, introducing City of Calgary security guards and collaborating with Calgary Police Services to expand patrols as recruitment is completed.
Fleming says the service has seen an eight per cent decrease in calls related to social disorder between 2021 and 2022.