The City of Edmonton is taking new steps to improve safety on buses and LRT and around public transit stations with more boots on the ground.
Starting Sunday, people can expect to see more transit peace officers patrolling LRT platforms from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., a new city report on transit safety shows.
The new Transit Community Action Teams (TCAT) will be assigned to problem areas.
"TCAT will use a high-visibility and high-engagement deployment model aimed to reduce and prevent crime and disorder in assigned hot spots," the report says.
Coun. Erin Rutherford said the steps are in response to council's decision in February to increase the budget for enhanced safety measures.
"We want to create a safe, reliable and effective transit system," Rutherford said.
Safety issues have become more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
The TCAT program is based on a 2019 transit safety pilot where police and peace officers hit hot spots six hours a day, four days a week.
These areas had a 27 per cent reduction in violent crime compared to the locations that did not, the report says.
By July, the city is adding Community Outreach Transit Teams (COTT), a joint effort between city peace officers and the Bent Arrow Healing Society to deal more with mental health and addictions issues.
The report also says the city plans to install gates at some LRT platforms, where customers will be required to pay before being let in.
The city operations branch will request funding for this project during 2023-2026 budget deliberations this fall, the report says.
In total, the city has nearly 28 kilometres of LRT track, 25 transit centres and 18 LRT stations to patrol.
A spokesperson said city operations branch manager Gord Cebryk will provide more detail after the report is discussed at a council meeting May 24.
'Nowhere near enough'
Steve Bradshaw, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, said the safety measures are a step in the right direction.
"It's well-intended but nowhere near enough,' Bradshaw told CBC News Thursday.
He said the city needs to put out more transit peace officers with an expanded scope of authority to deal with mental health and addictions issues.
The city is hiring 22 more transit officers this year, City Manager Andre Corbould told council's community and public services committee meeting Tuesday.
The number of transit officers on the ground will go up to 92 from the current 70.
Bradshaw has been asking for double the current number of transit peace officers and more police presence downtown.
Police Chief Dale McFee said more patrols will be dispatched downtown by next week after a slew of incidents in the past 24 hours, including two suspicious deaths, aggravated assaults and a violent stabbing in Bay LRT station.
The city also plans to add drug poisoning prevention teams from June to September partnering with community health resources to respond to help in distress at transit facilities and LRT stations.
Between January and March this year, the city's transit control centre received 227 reports of drug poisonings at transit facilities.
In the last six weeks, security guards used naloxone 52 times in transit facilities.
Bradshaw said drug overdoses on transit were reported 787 times so far this year compared to 649 times between May and December 2021.
Ridership on ETS dropped to 50 per cent from regular levels during most of the pandemic but has recovered to between 66 to 69 per cent, the city says.
Rutherford said more people taking transit again will encourage even more to choose the bus or LRT.
"If I'm walking down the same street and there's 20 other people, I feel safer than if I'm walking down that street and I'm alone."