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Action needed to curb safety concerns on CTrains: councillors


Several Calgarians who use Calgary Transit detailed to Postmedia experiences witnessing drug use, assault and harassment while commuting

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A group of Calgary councillors is looking into solutions to curb escalating safety concerns on the city’s CTrain network.

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Councillors Sonya Sharp, Andre Chabot and Jennifer Wyness met with Calgary Transit and city officials last week with the goal of easing “urgent” problems related to social disorder on trains and at LRT stations.

Sharp said she has seen an increase in messages and emails from transit users detailing unsafe conditions over the past three weeks. She said she visited the Tuscany LRT station and saw some of the problems first-hand.

“My constituents are not safe. We have high school students going on the train, seeing things that no 16- to 18-year-old should see,” Sharp told Postmedia on Sunday.

“And these folks, none of them really have a choice. They have to be on the train, and that’s adults as well . . . It isn’t an option for many Calgarians, and safety shouldn’t be an option either.”

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Administrators came forward with recommendations out of the meeting with councillors, Sharp said. She said she hopes operational changes can have a noticeable effect in the coming days. Details on specific measures weren’t immediately available, with additional information from Calgary Transit expected this week.

Chabot said he began looking at transit solutions after hearing from constituents over “criminal activity” at the Marlborough LRT station. He said the city must find ways to make riders feel safe and secure, and raised a turnstile or gated system as a possible long-term solution, acknowledging difficulties doing this in some open, at-grade stations.

“We can’t incorporate turnstiles everywhere, but where we can, maybe we should,” Chabot said. “When you have a dedicated point of entry, if you could limit who’s accessing it, you can at least be sure that they pay to be in so they can ride the system.”

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Coun. Kourtney Penner said on social media late last week she opposes making the CTrain a gated system, saying it would be costly to retrofit stations and challenges would still exist.

She said more peace officers will be hired and trained to address safety issues, but said restoring ridership levels that have tanked during the COVID-19 pandemic is vital.

“We know an increase in ridership will help alleviate some of the challenges. I recognize, however, the narrative of decreased safety compromises the reputation of Calgary Transit and poses a risk to the decision people will make in choosing transit as their mobility choice,” Penner wrote on Twitter. The Ward 11 representative was not available for an interview Sunday.

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Lower ridership and resulting gaps in fare revenue make investments into Calgary Transit difficult, Chabot said, with a revenue shortfall projected between $60 million and $90 million in 2022. He said bolstering resources could require a tax increase.

“Other than that, the only way we can generate revenue is through the fare box,” he said.

Several Calgarians who use Calgary Transit detailed to Postmedia experiences witnessing drug use, assault and harassment while commuting.

Susan Crockett is a chef who takes transit into work downtown five times a week. She said she’s seen fights, sexual intercourse, urination, defecation and drug overdoses on the transit system, and called on the city to work to make these spaces more safe for transit users.

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“I feel completely unsafe . . . I literally carry a pocket knife on me now as the situations seem to be escalating since the stations closed,” Crockett said, referring to the city decision last month to close three LRT stations overnight to prevent homeless Calgarians from using the sites as shelters.

“City and transit have to work together to keep their citizens safe. Closing stations to the public and ignoring the problem isn’t the answer, especially when transit keeps increasing their prices for worse and worse service. I pay $7.20 a day to play with my safety.”

CTrain stations have been closed to the public during the day and night at select locations like Southland to prevent them from being used as impromptu homeless shelters in Calgary on Thursday, January 27, 2022.
CTrain stations have been closed to the public during the day and night at select locations like Southland to prevent them from being used as impromptu homeless shelters in Calgary on Thursday, January 27, 2022. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Disorder on transit is a long-standing issue that has worsened alongside decreased ridership over the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ashley Soles, who has taken transit for 20 years.

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Soles said she sometimes uses the emergency button or the transit emergency phone line to report problems. But she said it’s not always safe for her to do so during charged situations, and response from officers often lacks urgency.

“(Officials) don’t take us seriously when we tell them to actually fix these problems that leave our vulnerable people in the dust. And by fix, that means actually coming up with permanent solutions, not short-term increases in peace officer patrols,” she said.

Sunalta Community Association vice-president Michael Jones said his community is pushing for solutions to transit safety, as residents increasingly report feeling unsafe while navigating the city. He said pandemic effects on vulnerable Calgarians are at the core of the problem.

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“We’ve had people pushed out from where they would normally be able to stay and the transit system is the only place they were able to stay relatively safe, or relatively warm,” Jones said.

“It’s a series of systemic problems that we’ve had that have all come to roost, and the proper fix isn’t going to be fast.”

Jones praised work by community agencies, including the Alpha House’s Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) program and The Alex Foundation in supporting vulnerable Calgarians, and said further resources must be directed to support work from these groups.

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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