Safety and security on St. Louis transit continues to be highlighted on a daily basis. Transit agencies across the country are working to ensure their riders and transit operators have a safe, secure ride everyday on transit through different programs and services. So what are other transit agencies doing to ensure a safe ride for all?
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) is deploying Kansas City police officers, safety partitions in vehicles, employee training programs, and tougher penalties against passengers accused of assault to increase safety on its transit system. In 2016, KCATA signed an agreement with the Kansas City, MO, Police Department to put two full-time uniformed officers on the transit system. The uniformed officers can respond more immediately to incidents on the system, and have answered more than 700 transit calls in the past year, including making 90 arrests, 3,800 bus shelter checks, and handling over 20 mental health crises. In addition, KCATA is in the process of installing driver safety partitions in half of its fleet by the end of 2017. Already 75 vehicles have the partitions installed, and all new buses purchased will have the safety shields for drivers.
Perhaps most important among KCATA’s proactive efforts is the “Fighting Back Against Bus Assaults” training program that 500 employees completed last year. The program covers system security awareness, preventing workplace violence, communicating in a crisis, and responding to major crises impacting transit operations. This program received the 2016 American Public Transit Association Security Gold Award for transit systems with more than 4 million but fewer than 20 million passenger trips. KCATA also issues trespass warnings against passengers accused of assault. KCATA banned 14 passengers in 2016 (up from 3 bans in 2015) to send a clear message that assaults will not be tolerated. With the Missouri legislature passing a new law making assaults on a transit operator a felony with stiffer penalties than its previous misdemeanor designation, limiting access to repeat offenders together with the tougher penalties and other efforts by KCATA are generating positive results, with assaults against operators going down 47 percent.
After a fatal shooting of a passenger on a system bus, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) is reassessing its transit security practices. Police had limited visibility into the inside of the bus, which impeded their view of the standoff in which the passenger was killed. Because of this issue, RTC is searching for an alternative material to the currently used vinyl film used for ads covering buses and windows. RTC has installed driver security enclosures in response to transit operator feedback, and this has led to a significant decrease in driver assaults. RTC is also looking at technology that would allow law enforcement and security personnel to provide live remote coverage in case of a safety event. Currently, the cameras in each RTC vehicle record footage that can be viewed later, and are not connected to a live feed.
De-Escalation, Ad Campaigns, and Technological Solutions
Other transit agencies are trying other techniques. In Hampton, VA, Des Moines, IA, and San Francisco, CA, transit providers are using conflict de-escalation trainings for transit vehicle drivers to diffuse tense situations before they lead to violence. The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) believes their best defense against possible violence is de-escalating difficult situations through words and positive interactions, before they lead to serious aggression.
DART is using the Canadian Urban Transit Association’s Transit Ambassador program in its training of all DART employees. The programs helps give staff the freedom to prioritize meeting customer needs, rather than merely following policies. According to DART, this approach allows employees to calm potentially dangerous situations before they lead to physical aggression, while also promoting great customer service. DART employees are trained to deal with a range of situations from fare disputes to arguments among customers to vandalism, and the technique involves a response scale for everything from low-risk situations to dangerous encounters.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is also providing conflict de-escalation and customer service training to help keep bus drivers safe and deter violence on their City transit system. In addition, SFMTA has launched a #KeepThemSafe ad campaign designed to humanize transit vehicle operators. San Francisco Municipal Railway operators experienced nearly 100 assaults between 2013 and 2015.
A company called ELERTS has also created an app for smart phones that allows transit riders to instantly report safety or security concerns on transit. App users can click a button to either directly contact transit security personnel or discreetly submit a report with photo or video, a description of the potentially threatening situations, and GPS coordinates. Reports may also be submitted anonymously through the app, and the app automatically disables the camera flash when in use so as not to draw undue attention to the rider. Security personnel can follow up on a report immediately and directly. ELERTS describes the app as complementary to onboard video surveillance systems, and claims that transit authorities have reported success in locating persons of interest based upon pictures and descriptions submitted with the app.
Safety on transit is a priority at all transit provider agencies, and a variety of approaches exist. Safety for transit riders and drivers is essential to a positive transit experience for all users.