City report questions use of turnstiles for safety on Calgary Transit
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City report questions use of turnstiles for safety on Calgary Transit

Jul 27, 2023

Transit safety was once again front and centre at city hall Wednesday, as a city committee debated more security personnel and the feasibility of turnstiles on Calgary's CTrain line.

The debate comes the day after an overnight stabbing at the Marlborough LRT station in the city's northeast, which left one person in life-threatening condition.

"We do need to have some sort of solutions out there today, tomorrow, and the next coming months," Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp told reporters.

The city's Infrastructure and Planning Committee heard the findings of a new city report which explored the feasibility of a ‘closed transit system,’ with turnstiles or fare gates installed on all of the city's LRT platforms.

The 96-page report, titled ‘Assessing a Closed System as Part of The City of Calgary Transit Safety Strategy,’ determined a fully closed system wouldn't be feasible in Calgary, and wouldn't alter safety on transit.

"There is no correlation between the provision of fare gates and increased transit safety on existing systems with fare gates," 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 found there would be challenges with integrating turnstiles at the free fare stations along 7th Avenue in the city's downtown core, and recommended against the city taking that approach.

The study also explored the feasibility of a partially closed system, with no turnstiles on platforms in the free zone.

While the study found a partially closed system to be possible, it said the move would require substantial modifications to most existing stations at an estimated cost of around $284 million.

The report also recommended against the idea of a partially closed system.

"You’d have to change the design and accesses to different stations," Leading Mobility Consulting principal and the report's author David Cooper said.

"Sunnyside Station, there's nine different ways to get into that station, so it would be a complete reimagination of that space."

Instead, city administration recommended a third option which would see more staff hired such as peace officers, corporate security, dedicated police resource and additional community outreach teams, along with infrastructure improvements focused on safety.

The recommendation called for $3.4 million in one-time funding for the enhanced staffing and $5.3 million for safety and infrastructure improvements from the city's fiscal stability reserve, with anticipation for another $6.7 million in additional base funding in the city's November budget talks.

Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness expressed concerns with the report into the closed system, and questioned the recommendation of adding more security staff following recent announcements of increased staffing on the city's transit system.

"I’m unimpressed because Calgarians are not safe on our transit system," she said. "Someone was stabbed today while we sit here and get a report that essentially says keep doing what we’re doing. It's not working."

Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean, who originally proposed the idea of a closed system, said he disagreed with the report's findings.

"Just having more safety ambassadors and law enforcement, I don't think is going to be the solution," he said. "I’d advocate for… a partially closed system. We could then track the data of our riders, we can increase our services most likely, track criminal behaviour and increase revenue."

Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said she accepts the report's findings and trusts the expertise recommending against a closed or partially closed system to improve safety.

"We can spend hundreds of millions, potentially billions of dollars, closing a system but we’re not really sure if that would work or solve anything," Mian said.

"That is not financially responsible."

Calgary Transit director Sharon Fleming said city officials felt it would be prudent to invest those funds into safety personnel and a plan "that we know is working today."

"We have different rules around egress and ability to be accessible that make the modern fare gates challenging from a safety perspective; they don't add safety," Fleming said.

"We wanted to invest our money in a way that we knew would provide that sense of safety for Calgarians."

All four of the administration's recommendations were approved by committee on Wednesday, but will require a final approval by city council as a whole.

Wyness voted against the recommendations for funding more staff and infrastructure improvements. McLean and Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot also voted against the funds for new staff.

Later this year, Calgary Transit is expected to deliver a transit safety strategy in partnership with the Calgary Police Service that outlines outlining the roles, responsibilities, and resources required for an "integrated customer and safety service delivery model."

McLean said he would look into drafting a notice of motion to direct city administration to explore the implementation of a partially closed system on the city's LRT line, with the potential for a pilot project.