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Closed Calgary transit system not feasible, more safety personnel prescribed says report

Admin recommending another dose of added personnel and an integrated safety and security response plan.

City of Calgary administration said a closed transit system is entirely infeasible, in a report coming to a city committee next week.   

The admin report coming to the Infrastructure and Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday also showed that a partially closed system would cost $284 million and require trade-offs in safety, equity, experience and operations.

“A fully closed system is not feasible within the scope/context of this study, primarily due to the urban integration challenges and operational issues,” the city admin presentation reads.

Instead, it prescribes a report due later this year providing a “comprehensive multi-disciplinary transit safety strategy” bringing together Calgary Transit, Emergency Management and safety and law enforcement agencies.

Further, it suggests adding nearly $9 million in one-time cash for both hiring of staff and safety and infrastructure improvements. The hiring of permanent staff would add $6.7 million in additional base funding through the upcoming November 2023 budget adjustments.   

The report comes to committee after a request for a closed-system review requested by a handful of councillors as a measure to help deal with ongoing Calgary Transit safety issues.

Committee chair, Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said the admin recommendations looks a lot like what the city’s done up to this point.

“I don’t know if it actually is going to give me comfort that what we’re seeing is going to handle the problem,” Sharp told LiveWire Calgary on Friday.

Sharp said seeing the options, and that a closed system isn’t feasible, she’s asking what the next best options are.

“Well, our next best options are kind of what we already have,” she said.

“OK, well how do we improve that? We have to have that fulsome conversation again next week.”

Closed system is ‘mean spirited’, says Coun. Carra

The report lists myriad reasons why a closed system isn’t recommended.  It would require “significant infrastructure investment and service disruption”, and that could include tunneling, the report said.

“Other transit agencies with fare gates experienced increased safety-related incidents throughout the pandemic and increased complexity with intersecting societal considerations impacting public transit,” the report read.

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra called the examination of a closed-transit system “a ridiculous misadventure.”

“I think that the report is pretty clear about that. It doesn’t address the real problems that we’re facing now,” Carra said.

But he’s also not sold that having additional personnel is going to make a difference. He said dealing with things like a safer drug supply, affordable or transitional housing and even a universal basic income go further to address the real issues that fuel the violent crime on the city transit system.

“No amount of attendants on a transit system is going to solve that,” he said.

“Transit systems across the world are contending with that grim reality.”

Carra said too much time is being spent recycling this weird talking point about transit. Closed transit is typically used for fare evasion, he said. Calgary has reported past fare compliance that’s higher than 97 per cent.

“I just think the conversation surrounding closing the system is full stop a misadventure that’s maybe mean-spirited in its intention,” he said.

Sharp agreed that dealing with the root cause issue driving crime on transit is the key.

“A lot of the things we’re seeing on the train are a symptom of really the underlying issues of mental health and addiction that are going on,” she said.

She said those issues aren’t municipal responsibilities and they’re going to require more help from both provincial and federal governments.

While certain times of day are better than others, there are still ongoing issues – both those reported to her by constituents and ones Sharp’s experienced herself. Despite steps taken to add peace officers, increase CPS patrols, add corporate security and Alberta Sheriffs, it hasn’t moved the safety needle.  

“I would say it’s stayed the same,” she said.

Assessing a Closed System a… by Darren Krause