Calgary Transit relaunch strategy to include security personnel amid safety concerns

Calgary city councillors continue to hear from Calgarians about safety concerns while riding city transit, as Calgary Transit prepares a strategy to bring service back to pre-pandemic levels.

Kelli Erasmus is one of the transit users who has written to city council to express her concerns with the state of the service.

“I pay $112 to ride that train. And I understand there are social issues but I think there’s solutions to those issues, because it’s not safe,” Erasmus told Global News. “I don’t feel like going out with colleagues after work and being on the train past 5:30 p.m. — there’s no way, it’s just not safe.”

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Erasmus takes the train as part of her daily commute and has documented several incidents of social disorder that she has encountered while taking Calgary Transit.

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“Open drug use on the train — whether it’s crack or weed — open drinking, fighting. People are using it as a place to sleep,” Erasmus said.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said her office receives several calls and emails about safety on transit everyday.

“It’s a lot about the safety and particularly around certain times a day,” Sharp said. “We’ve noticed that the trend happens to be first thing in the morning or a little bit later at night.”

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Following a joint funding commitment from the province and federal government of $82 million to cover revenue shortfalls from a lack of ridership during the pandemic, Calgary Transit officials are working on a relaunch strategy with the goal of bringing back riders to the transit system.

According to director of Calgary Transit Sharon Fleming, that relaunch strategy will include investments in system security.

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Fleming told Global News that Calgary Transit will be hiring permanent security personnel to monitor each segment of the CTrain line and bolster efforts from Calgary peace and police officers.

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Fleming said the strategy would also include investments for enhanced lighting on train platforms and improved safety communication campaigns.

It follows the implementation of enhanced safety measures which includes more transit peace officers, bylaw officers, Calgary Police Service members and uniformed security guards stationed across the transit system.

Some details of the relaunch strategy were shared with Calgary’s community development committee on Wednesday.

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“Calgary Transit has been placed in a really unfortunate position of managing a social issue that they are not necessarily equipped to handle and so we’re trying to give them the supports that they need in order to support that through initiatives, through social programs,” Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said.

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Penner, who chairs the committee, said the mental health and addictions issues on the transit network needs to be addressed through “multiple channels and multiple avenues” that includes social agencies throughout the city.

“I think Calgary Transit has done a phenomenal job of stepping up and making the best use of the resources available to them at a time where they’ve seen incredible funding shortfalls,” Penner said. “I want to applaud Calgary Transit for the steps they’re trying to make.”

According to Sharp, there is ongoing work between the City of Calgary, Calgary Transit and social agencies in the city to determine what resources would be needed to address the ongoing safety concerns.

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“As a council, we really have to figure out what role transit plays… What role do some of our outreach teams play?” Sharp said. “How do we coordinate this correctly so that everybody has their job, their duty, and that we can also educate our citizens on what they need to understand what these folks are doing.”

The Alpha House Society has had a partnership with Calgary Transit since 2019, and said outreach teams currently see between 150 and 200 cases per month related to engagements on the transit network.

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Charlene Wilson, a program manager with the Alpha House, said the social issues being seen on the transit line are all part of an overall issue happening across the city that can’t be solved overnight.

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“I don’t necessarily think we need more resources,” Wilson said. “I think, more collaboration.

“We have those resources here so it’s just using that opportunity to engage with folks where they’re at and it is a process.”

The Alpha House relies on information from Calgarians to direct their Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Team to people who need assistance.  The DOAP Team can be reached at 403-998-7388.

According to Calgary Transit, the relaunch strategy will be formalized in the coming weeks and hiring is underway for more operators to increase service levels.

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