EDMONTON -- The City of Edmonton’s Urban Planning Committee heard a report Tuesday on the $21.4-million investment made by the city in 2018 to improve safety and security on Edmonton transit.

The investment included infrastructure improvements – such as security cameras and protective shields for drivers – as well as security guards and additional training for transit operators and staff.

“Having that presence there at the transit stations has actually helped in making our transit officers, making EPS aware of when there were particular problems,” said Ward 1 Coun. Andrew Knack.

In the third quarter of 2018, before security guards were deployed, there were 391 calls for service to the Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) Control Centre, according to the report. In the last quarter of 2020, there were 2,298 calls for service.

The increase of 487 per cent is a good thing, according to Knack.

“When you have data, you can then use your resources more effectively.”

City staff said that the guards have dealt with incidents ranging from loitering to assault, have helped overdose victims and even helped find a missing child.

The increased commitment to safety on transit is something the city hopes will attract people back to the system.

“They (transit centres), at certain times of day, feel like a ghost town, and no wonder, if you’re not using the system there’s no reason to be in some of these locations,” said Knack.

ETS ridership has decreased by about 60 per cent during to the pandemic.

The report said there has been a recent increase in incidents involving vandalism, harassment and threats.

“The reduction in ridership has meant that the natural surveillance that normally occurs on the system isn’t there to the same degree that people are used to,” said Mayor Don Iveson.

“That does have an effect on both people’s perceived sense of safety as well as the actual conditions that allow for a disorder or mischief to occur.”

According to Iveson, other large cities in the country are having similar problems with transit.

“But, I’m really pleased that the data-driven approach… is helping us,” said Iveson.

Another thing Knack wants to see is more businesses in transit centres to increase the number of people in spaces, thereby increasing the level of safety with additional “eyes on the street.”

“As a city, we need to maybe take a step back and say, ‘Is it worth leasing out our land, or even selling our land in some locations at below market value so that we can activate those spaces,’” said Knack.

The report detailed several future initiatives to improve the current system including a community outreach team and a bystander awareness program.

“To help empower bystanders to identify and effectively respond to forms of harassment and sexual violence,” the reports stated. “All Edmontonians deserve to feel safe when in public spaces and on transit property.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson