As provincial work-from-home orders are lifted, Calgary’s transit system is rolling out all the stops to welcome people back.
Starting earlier this week, passengers are being met with a beefed-up presence of transit officers, peace officers, uniformed security guards and police along the entire system, which includes CTrains, stations and bus routes.
Some will ride trains, others will monitor security camera systems or work as ambassadors checking passengers have tickets to ride.
Bylaw officers and other city staff will do patrols — all in a blitz designed to remind people their safety is a top priority.
Resetting a broken system
Samuel Hope, Calgary Transit’s manager of safety and security, sees it as a “reset.”
“I would say we’ve worked hard to recreate a safe transit system. Clearly, there is a lot more work to do,” Hope says. “It’s an incredibly busy system and we understand it’s the lifeblood of the city which is why we take the whole issue very, very seriously.”
Hope says the plan is to balance out safety concerns raised by citizens and to continue working on complex issues surrounding vulnerable people who often end up causing them.
“We need to look after everybody on our system.”
He cites several intertwined issues, including legitimate transit users’ worries and the plight of vulnerable persons who, for much of the pandemic, turned to the system for refuge, bringing behavioural concerns associated with addictions or untreated mental health struggles — all of which can’t be solved with a ticket for loitering or an unpaid fare.
Some people aren’t so sure about getting back on the train
Calgary police Const. Chris Martin is aware some may be apprehensive to return to public transit.
“I have friends heading back to work in the core who asked if it is safe,” he says.
“I find it tough to answer. It’s such a personal thing and so subjective,” he says, adding a 6’5” 210-pound man who works out every day may feel differently than a woman who is travelling alone at night.
“I think statistically, it is probably safe compared to other places but that doesn’t tell the whole story for certain users who don’t feel safe,” Martin adds.
And he gets it.
Crime and disorder
Over the years, Martin has seen everything from mild harassment to people using objectionable language on the transit system — to worse.
“It’s gone all the way from homicides to everything in between from assaults, threats with weapons, intimidation and open drug use,” he says. “Yesterday, we had a call for a fellow sharpening a knife on platforms and wrapping it up.”
The man insisted he had no ill intent but that might not matter to most anyone.
Martin says ongoing efforts are in place to make transit safe but, like anywhere in public, issues can arise.
“Everywhere you go, there will be people from all walks of life. The CTrain is no different,” he says.
The constable says increased presence will ideally remind those relying on transit, that it’s not the Wild West and show criminals they can never let their guard down.
Life has dramatically changed over the past two years
It’s no different on the city’s transit system. When public-health mandates were introduced, ridership dropped to almost a trickle hitting just 30% to 40% of pre-pandemic figures, Hope said.
Many among the city’s vulnerable population turned to CTrains, stations and bus shelters as a last-ditch albeit totally inappropriate reprieve from the cold.
The sight of people camped out with no toilet facilities, proper heating or amenities — many with mental health issues or using illicit drugs — made many Calgarians using transit to go from A to B understandably uncomfortable.
“At the height of the cold snap, we had up to 200 people congregating in stations across the system,” Hope said. “Other transit systems have similar issues.”
In recent months, the city and community groups took a compassionate approach, collaborating to relocate vulnerable individuals by connecting them to the right community support. It’s an ongoing effort but the uneasiness it fostered among some transit users might still exist.
Increased efforts to ensure the system is “safe and accessible,” will be part of a reset that, ideally, goes beyond transit routes, Hope says.
“The push for normalcy in everyday life is important. It’s reflected in going to work, using transit, coming down to the core, reengaging in entertainment — all of which aid Calgary to turn around economically,” he says. “We are all in it together. The next real step is recovery.”
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