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RTA gathers riders and regional officials for Safety and Security Summit, announces Transit Station Activation grants

March 1, 2024

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On February 27, the RTA joined with CTA, Metra, Pace, the City of Chicago, State of Illinois, and other municipal and social service partners to host a cross-sector Public Transit Safety and Security Summit, a major implementation step of the regional transit strategic plan Transit is the Answer, and a collaborative effort toward ensuring all riders and operators feel safe on transit.

The Safety and Security Summit gathered nearly 80 participants, including regional leaders and transit riders, to explore holistic solutions. Areas of focus included:

  • Enhancing personal security and addressing perception of crime on transit
  • Incorporating transit-specific strategies into social services initiatives
  • Creating safer, more welcoming environments in transit stations and stops

Opening remarks were offered by RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden, City of Chicago Deputy Mayor of Community Safety Garien Gatewood, and Illinois State Senator Ram Villivalam.

Redden summed up the goal of the day: “supporting strategies that make an impact” on safety — a top concern for riders, policymakers, and lawmakers alike as the region’s public transit systems work to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Together with RTA, CTA, Metra, Pace, and suburban municipalities, the City of Chicago is committed to working holistically to improve safety across the region’s public transit system,” Gatewood said. “We have to be very thoughtful on how we collaborate, not only with our partners in the city, but our partners broadly, so I’m glad we’re having this summit today.”

“I want to thank RTA for putting this on, for taking this issue as seriously as they are,” said Sen. Villivalam. “To be able to be a part of this discussion, hear the comments from people who are living and breathing this every day, is truly valuable.”

The centerpieces of the summit included:

  • an hour-long panel discussion with leadership from LA Metro and Metro Transit in Minneapolis-Saint Paul that explored how their agencies have approached safety challenges;
  • a presentation by RTA Senior Deputy Executive Director for Planning & Capital Programming Maulik Vaishnav, who provided an analysis of riders’ survey responses on what types of behaviors make them feel unsafe and what interventions would make them feel safer, as well as an overview of active local initiatives to address safety concerns;
  • and a small group breakout discussion where riders, advocates, stakeholders, transit operators, and local leaders were able to share personal experiences and brainstorm solutions.

Panel discussion offers insights from national peers

During the panel (view a recording), Stephen Tu, Deputy Executive Officer of Station Experience at LA Metro, explained that his agency has pursued physical and design interventions to help improve safety and feelings of safety, including improving lighting on specific parts of train platforms and making train station entrances more welcoming by upgrading their appearance and playing classical music over speakers. The agency has pursued these strategies alongside others like hiring transit ambassadors, providing transit operators with de-escalation training, and working with social service agencies to provide resources to unhoused people sheltering on the transit system. LA Metro has worked to pair “tactical” interventions with “people-centered strategies” to improve safety, Tu said.

Lesley Kandaras, General Manager at Metro Transit in Minneapolis, shared that her agency uses several strategies to increase physical presence on trains and at train stations — which riders have expressed would make them feel safer — including adding fare inspectors, transit ambassadors, and private security. The agency has intentionally sought to bolster its non-police presence alongside law enforcement, Kandaras said.

Breakout sessions explore solutions for enhancing personal safety on Chicago transit

The second half of the program opened with Vaishnav sharing rider data related to safety and security (view a recording and slide deck). According to RTA’s survey panel data, transit riders surveyed expressed the most concern about dangerous behavior, substance use, and damaged, broken, or dirty transit facilities. They also identified frequent transit service, cleanliness, and better lighting as changes that were the most likely to make them feel safer. CTA, Metra, and Pace also frequently survey riders and their data showed relatively high satisfaction with perception of safety on buses and commuter rail. On CTA rail, excess wait times at night and smoking or drug use on trains were reported as the biggest triggers of dissatisfaction for riders.

Breakout group discussions focused on three topic areas: enhancing personal security and addressing perception of crime on transit, incorporating transit-specific strategies into social service initiatives, and creating safer and more welcoming environments at train stations and transit stops. Key takeaways reported out from the breakout discussions included:

  • riders’ interest in more social service-oriented approaches to addressing crime on transit rather than emphasizing enforcement;
  • a desire for greater communication from transit agencies with riders — and more tools by which riders can communicate directly with transit agencies about their experiences on the system;
  • a need for building stronger partnerships between transit agencies and social service agencies;
  • and an emphasis on a holistic approach to safety on transit.

To see the full speaker presentations, panel discussion, and audience Q&A, watch the video recording below.

In the coming months, the RTA will produce a more detailed report of ideas generated in the summit’s breakout sessions with a focus on what we and regional agencies can best act on.

Transit Station Activation grants

Each year the RTA hosts a Call for Projects for its Community Planning program, which provides funding and technical assistance to local governments to help foster the growth of sustainable, equitable, walkable, and transit-friendly communities.

At the safety summit, the RTA announced it is piloting a new category focused on safety and security — Transit Station Activation. Under this category, funding will be made available to cover the costs related to rail station and bus stop activation projects and activities aimed at bringing a temporary, increased presence of people to transit stations and stops as a solution to real or perceived public safety concerns.

It is envisioned these projects and activities will be simple, short-term actions or events occurring for a few hours over the course of several days that will bring residents, transit riders and visitors to the area to experience the activation project. Projects could include things like musical performers, pop up vendors, local artist showcases, beautification, community outreach, or safe walk programs. Station activation projects are expected to cost between $5,000 and $20,000 and the RTA in coordination with the service boards will select a few pilot projects in this category in 2024.

The RTA Community Planning Call for Projects, hosted jointly with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Technical Assistance program, is open for applications through March 22. Read more about the types of projects that are eligible and how to apply.

Join the Transit is the Answer Coalition

Transit is the answer to many of the region’s challenges but is threatened by lack of sufficient operating and capital funding after years of disinvestment and a global pandemic. This leaves our transit agencies to face an existential crisis that neither fare hikes nor service cuts can solve while preserving a useful and equitable system.

We need your help to win sustainable funding for transit and build a better system for everyone who relies on it. Learn more and join the Transit is the Answer Coalition.

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

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