New Edmonton Transit text service lets riders message dispatch for security help

·3 min read

Edmonton transit riders who feel they are in danger can now text city dispatch workers directly for help.

The new service is designed to make riders, particularly women and girls, feel safer.

The Transit Watch text message service, which launches today, is part of the city's ongoing efforts to improve security on buses and LRT trains.

The service will allow Edmontonians to discreetly report security concerns, such as harassment, disorder and suspicious behaviour, the city said.

"We've heard from women and girls about the importance of having a discreet way to report safety and security concerns on transit," Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, director of business integration with Edmonton Transit Service, said in a statement.

"This safety initiative provides another layer of reporting that will help empower our riders to report concerns.

"More reporting also gives us valuable insight and data to help us strategically deploy resources to the right place, at the right time."

Riders can send a text message to Transit Watch at 780-442-4900. The message will go directly to the transit control centre.

Control centre staff will dispatch help such as security officers to the scene. Control centre staff will also reply to the person who texted, letting them know what is being done.

All emergencies should still be reported to 911, the city said.

Before the introduction of the text-messaging option, transit riders could only call in concerns.

Many women feel unsafe on transit and are fearful of riding after dark or waiting alone at a station, said Coun. Bev Esslinger.

Harassment on buses and trains has been an ongoing issue for years, she said.

Riders need a way to ask for help without making themselves a target.

"There's a variety of things that we had heard from women, that they felt unsafe or someone was harassing them," Esslinger said.

"They felt uncomfortable being in the LRT stations by themselves, they were approached by people that made them feel uncomfortable, people jostling against them, touching them inappropriately."

The new system was inspired by community feedback and ongoing consultation with community partners, including the Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton and members of the Edmonton Safe City Community Collaboration Committee.

Esslinger said city transit services need to be more inviting for women. Security concerns have kept many away.

"We're really just trying to support them," she said. "This is just one more tool on that safety journey."

The new system follows targeted attempts to improve security on city transit after a series of high-profile crimes two years ago prompted a security review.

On Sept. 18, 2018, a young man was stabbed while waiting for a train at the South Campus LRT station. Eight days later, a bus driver was stabbed at the Mill Woods Transit Centre.

Following the security review, council approved about $21 million for safety upgrades.

Security cameras were installed on all buses. LED lighting was added to all transit centres. Bus and LRT operators got training to deal with problem patrons. A private security contract put security guards at 25 transit centres on 24/7 patrol.

As well, protective shields were installed on almost 1,000 buses to protect drivers from violence.

Since then, the city said it has recorded a 30 per cent decrease in crime on transit, and a 50 per cent drop in mischief complaints.

The city has also seen a 300 per cent increase in reported transit security incidents.

Esslinger said the increase is due to improved surveillance and reporting options for riders.

"All these things add up," she said. "The evidence is showing that it's beginning to work.

"We've heard, anecdotally, people feel safer walking down some of those places where they maybe didn't before. There is better lighting and there are cameras watching.

"Hopefully those who have decided not to ride will decide to try it again ... But it takes time. Those who have had a bad experience are usually reluctant to come back."