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City committee approves more cash for Calgary Transit safety

The matter still needs final approval at a full meeting of Calgary city council.

More cash for security personnel and an integrated approach to safety delivery was approved by a Calgary committee Wednesday.

It didn’t come without fierce debate over the quality and scope of the review on a closed system for Calgary Transit discussed in Wednesday’s Infrastructure and Planning Committee meeting.

The report said that a closed system was infeasible and wouldn’t move the needle on transit safety, and thus city admin didn’t even provide a cost for it. They did show that a partially closed system would cost roughly $284 million but would come with tradeoffs. 

It recommended spending $29 million for enhanced staff and safety and infrastructure improvements funded by one-time cash and then embedded in the city’s annual budget. It also recommended the closed-system review be received as information.

Those recommendations were approved in separate votes in committee (all by strong majorities). It still needs final approval at a full meeting of council.

“I want people to take transit. I also want people to be safe. I want our police officers and our peace officers and our operators and all of our transit riders to be safe. It is why we call it Safety for All,” said Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner.

She recognized more money needed to be spent on preventative services to escape a “wicked” problem.

“I think this was a step towards management I think this is a step towards responding to citizens who are asking for presence and for help. I think it is also our response to those who are truly needing help.”

The study didn’t answer the questions: Coun. Wyness

Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness grilled administration on the current safety situation, but also on the veracity of information in the closed system report.

She said the status quo of adding safety personnel isn’t working. Wyness raised the irony that the committee was discussing transit safety just as another person was stabbed overnight on Calgary Transit.

“This is a problem that goes beyond our CTrains – it’s our entire transit system,” she said.

“Calgarians have been told that their perception of safety was not reality when it is a reality. They don’t feel safe.”

She said there was a lack of real evidence showing the potential impact of a closed system on violent crime. Wyness expressed concern that only select cities were used to reinforce administration’s recommendations.

“We’ve only studied gates from the perspective of fare evasion no one has studied fair gates of whether or not it improves safety,” she said.

David Cooper, a former Calgary Transit analyst, and current transit consultant did say to committee members that an environmental scan of closed transit systems showed no impact on safety.  That was reiterated in the report.

He responded to a question from Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian about the relationship between fare gates and safety and or if they can’t determine the relationship between the two.

“We could not find that relationship. We tried. We looked. We asked,” Cooper said.

“We could not find that relation. We cannot find that there’s a correlation. The other agencies that we spoke with, they couldn’t find the correlation. So, in my professional opinion, there’s no correlation.”

Wyness told media on Wednesday afternoon that the situation – given the scope and complexity, and that all cities are quite different – might require a made-in-Calgary solution.

“Let’s stop looking at everybody else and go, ‘how do we truly look at this problem and think outside the box to solve it?'” Wyness said.

Attempts to press the closed-system review and provide other options were rebuffed at this meeting but could come to a future meeting through a separate notice of motion.

The matter will come back to the city’s consent agenda at a meeting in June.