With an increasing number of incidents of violence on public transit systems, the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) has recognized the need for immediate action to ensure the safety and security of transit riders and workers. Consequently, CUTA has released a set of recommendations by its Transit Safety Taskforce with representation from the largest transit systems in Canada. CUTA also called on all levels of government to come to the table to provide support.
“Violence has absolutely no place on Canada’s public transit systems. We take the safety and security of transit riders and workers very seriously,” said CUTA President and CEO Marco D’Angelo. “The work of our Transit Safety Taskforce is important in addressing these challenges and ensuring that our transit systems remain safe and accessible for everyone.”
CUTA’s recommendations build on the work underway at many transit systems across Canada. The recommendations focus on rider safety, staff safety, housing and supports, substance use and mental health. Public transit systems reflect the communities they serve. Issues such as homelessness, substance use, and mental health, when left unaddressed, can impact transit systems.
Among the recommendations is a call for support to invest in more safety, security and enforcement positions on transit. CUTA says this needs to be coupled with stronger bylaws so that special constables and police have the ability to curb dangerous and unlawful behavior on transit. CUTA notes that enforcement must work hand-in-hand with mental health supports and calls on provincial governments to provide transit agencies with dedicated mental health outreach personnel.
“Our communities need to approach transit safety from both a public safety and outreach perspective,” added D’Angelo. “This allows us to tackle immediate concerns and address root causes.”
The recommendations also call on the Canadian government to strengthen penalties for assault on all transit workers by amending subsection 269.01 of the criminal code to include all transit workers, not just transit operators.
Addressing broad societal concerns extends beyond the purview of transit agencies, and these recommendations reflect CUTA’s call for all levels of government to come to the table with appropriate funding and other supports. CUTA calls for an urgent meeting of federal and provincial representatives, including those representing transportation, public safety, healthcare, public health and justice. Additionally, CUTA calls on all levels of government as well as partnering organizations to participate in its Transit Safety Taskforce to work collaboratively and implement solutions on this issue.
“There is no single solution to address the complex issue of violence on public transit, so we need to bring together experts and advocates from different fields to work collaboratively,” added D’Angelo.
Public transit cannot be a solution to homelessness. CUTA recommends that provincial governments fund overnight access and intake to social service providers, warming centers, and cooling centers so that people requiring support avoid sheltering in place on transit systems.
Substance use has no place on transit systems. CUTA recommends provincial governments address the issue of addiction through enhanced support programs, enforcement and by diverting activity to sanctioned areas.
CUTA also recommends that transit agencies explore partnerships with mental health service providers and position outreach workers within the transit system to assist transit staff.
CUTA formed its Transit Safety Taskforce in June 2022 to address root causes of violence on transit and advocate for real-world solutions. The taskforce is composed of representatives from transit agencies across Canada that are experiencing the current increase in safety incidents most acutely.
Transit ridership has been steadily recovering after the pandemic. National ridership stands at roughly 73 percent of prepandemic level. But fear of violence threatens to derail the recovery that transit agencies and municipalities have been hoping for.