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RTA begins planning a safety and security summit

August 2, 2023

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Transit is the answer to many of our region’s greatest challenges, and all riders need to feel safe on our system. One of the action items from the RTA’s regional transit strategic plan, Transit is the Answer, is to make the transit system safer and more secure for everyone. A safe and secure system is also necessary to attract, retain, and protect a talented transit workforce.

While there are several steps the CTA, Metra, and Pace have taken and can continue to take to improve safety, work with community partners, and communicate about disruptions, the RTA acknowledges that more work may be needed. The transit system is part of a larger regional ecosystem with other economic and societal trends at play. To improve safety and security on and around transit, the RTA will work with partners, including the City of Chicago, the Chicago Community Trust, and Elevated Chicago among others, to convene a cross-sector and cross-regional public safety and security summit to facilitate information sharing and explore holistic solutions to the challenges affecting transit, including advocating for further funding.

The RTA will host the second quarterly Transit is the Answer Coalition meeting on August 8 to gather input from coalition members on how to shape this summit and advance initiatives from it that may have the greatest impact.

What Transit is the Answer has to say

Development of Transit is the Answer involved convening five working groups of more than 100 stakeholders to examine key topics for the plan, identify priorities, and develop recommendations. It was important for RTA to work in partnership with diverse stakeholders and together build the goals and strategies that frame this plan. Throughout plan development, safety and security were consistently mentioned as top concerns. The action item calling for making the transit system safer and more secure for everyone was ranked as the most urgent.

The stakeholder working groups focused on improving the ways in which riders can communicate with operators and law enforcement when experiencing a safety issue, such as adding reporting capability to the Ventra app as well as suggesting improvements to cleanliness and lighting of transit stations and facilities. In response to perceived and actual increases in rates of crime on transit, working group members pushed for justice-centered approaches to violence reduction, such as affordable housing, mental health care, and living wages.

A recent article from the Chicago Reader offers an exploration of what de-escalation and non-violent intervention might look like on transit. Concepts or policies explored in this article, such as dispatching a city paramedic and city mental health worker to eligible 911 calls involving mental health crises, offering bystander intervention training rooted in de-escalation, and partnering with agencies and organizations to re-open mental health clinics and provide affordable housing, will be discussed during the coalition meeting in addition to ideas and examples from peer regions and from coalition members.

Progress related to this action already include:

  • More than 2,000 new HD cameras have been installed at nearly 60 stations across the Red, Blue, Brown, Green, Orange, and Pink lines as part of Safe and Secure, the CTA’s multi-year, multi-faceted program to modernize and further expand its extensive surveillance camera network (2021).
  • CTA expanded the use of contracted security services by adding more than 50 new K-9 security patrols (canine with two handlers) at targeted locations throughout the rail and bus system (2022).
  • CTA was awarded $14.8 million through the Department of Homeland Security’s Transit Security Grant Program to fund transit-related security initiatives and activities in collaboration with Chicago Police Department (2020).
  • Metra Police Department significantly increased the frequency of station checks on the system (2020, 2021).
  • Metra conducted 51 “Operation Lifesaver Safety Blitzes” at train stations in 2022 as part of its ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of safe behavior around its trains and tracks.
  • Metra developed the COPS smartphone app to allow riders to report safety and security issues on Metra trains and facilities (2019).

What we as a region could do with more resources

With more funding, RTA and the Service Boards could do more. Ideas could include adding staff to be present at stations and on vehicles to work with people, to observe safe riding norms, and compassionately deescalate safety situations before they become harmful. Additional resources from the state to social service agencies could help to address root causes that spill over into transit.

Join the RTA’s Transit is the Answer Coalition and register for the second quarterly coalition meeting to weigh in on the planning of a safety and security summit.

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Tagged in: Transit is the Answer | Coalition | CTA | Metra | Pace | RTA

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