EDMONTON -- With public spaces and shelters shut down for the pandemic, Edmonton Transit Service says it is seeing more "non-destination riders" seeking refuge on its trains and buses.

As a result, more service and security is being added to key locations, and staff are being redeployed for nightly vehicle cleaning and trained to help connect vulnerable people to resources.

Staff continue to deal with incidents of assault and petty crime, most notably at the Coliseum and Stadium stations and on Routes 5 and 9, despite a 72 per cent decrease in ridership.

"It's not different in the spectrum of stuff we've experienced in the past. I think as a whole, the system is down on those numbers," ETS Branch Manager Eddie Robar said Thursday. "But certainly not down in the percentage or volume of service that we've discontinued."

As well, ETS will begin running Friday morning a bus from Kinsmen to the EXPO Centre, between the two shelters that are still hosting homeless people in the city.

According to Jackie Foord of the city's social development department, the drop-in program at the EXPO is counting about 600 people every day.

She called it symptomatic of the larger problem of lack of housing options in Edmonton.

"The issues we are seeing today are not particularly different because there is a pandemic. The homeless-serving agencies work every day of the year to support and help people. Most days individuals experiencing homeless spend their time in libraries, rec centres, shopping malls, even here at City Hall," Foord said.

"This is a social issue. This is not an enforcement issue. This is a time for all of the kindness and compassion that Edmontonians have."

Officials have opened up Hall B at the EXPO centre for more space and to accommodate provincial health guidelines.

The Kinsmen-EXPO shuttle will run from Kinsmen starting at 7 a.m. to noon, then restart in the evening.