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City council hears data shows Edmonton transit safety improving

Public transit in Edmonton is becoming safer, according to data presented on Wednesday to city council.

Councillors heard in a report that, according to Edmonton Police data, incidents of non-violent crime in the transit system fell 36 per cent from August to September this year while the number of violent incidents reported fell 47 per cent.

According to Edmonton Transit data, the number of transit riders increased by almost 23 per cent in the same time frame — from from 3,915,065 riders to 5,060,090 — a boost that can be explained by students using public transport to go to school, but council also heard ridership increased 14 per cent in September compared to a year ago.

"We need to keep at it and continue to bring people back and have trust again in both downtown, Chinatown and our transit system," Ward Aniriq Coun. Erin Rutherford told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday.

Duane Hunter, Edmonton's director of transit safety, said the city needs to follow the data to know where resources are needed to continue the downward trend.

"The complex social challenges that we deal with in our communities cascade down into transit," Hunter said. "Transit facilities are not meant to deal with them, so when we have the opportunity to bridge people and work on the root causes that have people finding themselves in (the transit system), looking for support and services, then we'll actually get to real outcomes, not just outputs."

The city has been increasing the number of transit peace officers in the system, hiring 35 since early 2022. There are now 85 such peace officers working on transit, seven of them paired with outreach workers from the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. Eight more will start in November.

As well, the Alberta government announced funding in early 2023 for 50 police officers dedicated to transit spaces. So far, 21 such officers have been assigned to transit duties, with another 29 expected to be added by late 2024.

City community standards data also shows an increase in referral requests for shelter support and housing support.

"Winter is always a concern in the fact that people will turn to transit, for one reason or another, for services and support, but luckily, this year, more so than any other year, the provincial government has stepped in to increase the funding and we are going to see over 1,700 shelter spaces available for people, so that is a plus," Hunter said. "We will also be inviting the services where we transport people from transit centers throughout the wintertime to shelters, which will be scaled up in extreme weather activations."

Another piece of data presented to council by Edmonton Transit: A 19-per-cent decrease in the number of drug-related incidents, although according to a recent transit QR code survey of riders, drug-related behaviour is their top concern, Hunter said.

Rutherford notes witnessing frequent open-air drug use in the city's core, although she says she feels safe during her daytime commute.

"I think people are still very afraid to go back to downtown," Rutherford said. "I think the businesses there are really struggling. I'm seeing on my commute ... be it car or bus, I go through Chinatown, and I see it every day, morning and evening. A lot of open-air drug use, a lot of people that are really struggling and a lot of litter, and I don't see a lot of people that are there using the shops."

Angela Kemp, the inspector in charge of the Edmonton Police Service's crime suppression branch, said personnel understand people feel unsafe when they witness open-air drug use and that "officers, regardless if they're in transit or if they're in our community safety teams or patrol, are looking at creating pro-social behaviour."

"That means that we're addressing individualized behaviour at the time that we see it," Kemp said, adding that the approach is citywide, not just downtown. "It doesn't mean that it's an automatic enforcement response. A lot of times, it's just behavioural direction."

Other enhancements are being performed across the transit system — from regular, deeper cleaning of LRT trains to the addition of more security cameras — but Hunter says public perception of safety is still a work in progress.

"The enhanced transit safety plan is definitely not a sprint, it's a marathon," he said. "We have to keep doing the work over and over and over again while communicating to the public what we are doing, so eventually, the perceptions will follow and be based on real actions that we're taking." Top Stories

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