The City of Calgary would create a district hub model at three initial locations to help address transit safety in the city if an upcoming strategy document is approved.
That’s the primary new feature in a 49-page Public Transit Safety Strategy coming to the Community Development Committee on Monday. Along with the hubs is a goal to reach a specific response time to calls for service.
The report has been in the works for some time following a problematic increase in social disorder, and in some cases, violent crime on Calgary Transit. Officials have pointed at plummeting ridership during the Covid-19 pandemic as the entry point for criminal activity nearly four years ago.
Now, Calgary Transit has said that ridership has returned to pre-pandemic levels this year.
That’s put additional focus on Calgary Transit safety with riders still reporting unsafe conditions. In 2023 survey results included in the city admin report, it shows that 80 per cent of riders agree that there’s a concern for their personal safety on transit, up from 76 per cent in 2022.
Over the past 18 months, the City of Calgary has increased the number of transit officers by 25 per cent, increased patrols by peace officers and CPS, proactive CPS policing, covert policing operations to disrupt crime in transit areas, increased the number of community outreach teams, adding corporate security guards, improved lighting, cleaning and shelter transports.
The admin report lays out the goal of the safety component of the strategy.
“Adopt and evolve a district deployment model that will distribute transit public safety resources across the city in a decentralized approach, identifying citizen needs that are community-oriented, consistent and responsive,” reads the opening paragraph in the ‘How we will do this’ section of the integrated response.
The plan targets a response time of seven to 10 minutes, with a coordinated response from peace officers, CPS and Community Outreach Teams. It also looks at ways to better integrate law enforcement units, plus coordinate social response teams, along with continued LRT station safety improvements and ongoing employee training.
It also looks at creating a more equitable safety response for those Calgary commuters using the city’s bus network.
Step in the right direction
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, who, along with fellow councillors, has been advocating for a solution to Calgary Transit safety issues for more than a year now, said she supports the proposed hub model for safety delivery.
Sharp said the integrated teams at the hubs will get to issues faster, improving safety and the perception of safety on public transit. The strategy indicates that 79 per cent of Calgarians feel a uniformed officer should respond to the scene of a safety issue within 10 minutes.
“What we’ve heard from riders and constituents is people feel safer when they see a uniformed officer,” she said.
There’s a balance to strike, however, as they don’t want to inundate an area with transit enforcement, having a worrying effect on riders in an area, Sharp said.
The City of Calgary has been working with different social agencies to deliver an integrated approach to handling these calls. Some of it has been delivered through the Community Safety Investment Framework (CSIF), which has spawned program integration with the Calgary police and organizations like the Alex Community Health Centre. Further, the Calgary police and social agencies have co-located call centres to help deal with calls that don’t necessarily need a uniformed police response.
Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, who chairs the Community Development Committee, said that the hub model ensures that enforcement is where it needs to be, along with the compassionate response to aid the social side of transit crime.
“Having that trauma-informed care alongside of (enforcement) is absolutely critical because enforcement isn’t a solution,” Penner said.
“You can’t enforce someone out of a mental health crisis. That isn’t to say that we need to excuse that behaviour, but we need to understand that the approaches each go hand in hand.”
Measuring the strategy’s success
The strategy takes into account such measures as the reduction of crime and disorder on transit, the feeling of safety by riders, response time, number of overall calls and moving vulnerable Calgarians to shelters, along with proactive security interactions.
Coun. Penner said having measurements for success is important for a couple of reasons. First, other municipalities are looking for solutions, and having compiled data on Calgary’s outcomes could help other cities tackle the safety issue. The other aspect is it gives the City of Calgary a baseline with which to measure outcomes as a result of investment, Penner said.
“We have to measure the work that we’re doing, we have to provide targets and frameworks and to understand if they’re realistic and to understand if our investments are meeting those goals,” she said.
Penner also said when it comes to perceptions of safety on transit, it typically refers to those people “of means and choice.” It doesn’t always take into account those who seek transit stations for shelter or safety.
Coun. Sharp said she was happy to see the strategy include success measurements. She’d asked for it specifically as the strategy was formed.
“In all the reports we do, we should have measurements of success,” said Sharp.
“This one in particular, because you can measure one of the outcomes. One of the outcomes is ridership. Are people actually using the train and are they safe?”
Sharp said it was important to be able to look back on the different metrics to see how they correlate with customer satisfaction and the perception of safety.
Budget impacts for a ‘complex social issue’
In a recently approved document to help guide upcoming November city budget adjustments, $17 million is included to deal with transit and community safety. Both Penner and Sharp said that money would be directed towards the implementation of this public transit safety strategy if approved.
The initial plan calls for funding that would be used to deploy resources to the first three hubs, according to Coun. Penner. The future addition of two more transit safety hubs isn’t yet funded.
While it’s in addition to an already approved 2024 budget that comes with a planned 3.4 per cent tax increase, Coun. Penner said it’s an investment in the city. Without the funding, the City wouldn’t be able to move ahead with the plan.
“We need to have an honest conversation with Calgarians that these solutions don’t come without a cost, but they come at a cost that is shared,” she said.
Coun. Sharp said they’ll get more details on what’s to be included in the proposed funding of this plan closer to budget talks. Regardless, she said this is something that needs to be funded.
“We do need to do it because fundamentally if our city isn’t safe, you will not have investment coming to your city. You will not have businesses come here. You will not have people that want to go shopping, or eat, or live downtown. You will not have people riding your train,” she said.
“So, you really need to invest in these things, wisely.”
Both councillors also agreed that this isn’t the silver bullet to fixing transit safety – but it’s moving in the right direction.
“Transit safety is a complex, it’s part of a complex social issue, and we’re not the only city seeing these issues happen,” Sharp said.
“I would say this is a good step in trying to make sure people feel safe. If people do need the supports, then they’re getting them quicker.”
Penner said this is one part of a suite of programs to deal with some of the social issues. She said the city’s mental health and addictions strategy and the recently approved housing strategy also play a role in addressing public – and transit – safety.
“All of those are pieces that feed into this, that create a fulsome program,” she said.
If approved at committee, the item would still need majority support at an upcoming meeting of Calgary city council.