Edmonton considers hiring transit attendants, spending more on cleaning

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Edmonton city council will look at hiring transit attendants and spending more money on cleaning when they debate the budget for next year.

City councillors on Tuesday discussed adding potentially millions to the city’s budget to improve riders’ sense of safety on public transit. Spending $2.4 million on transit attendants, $1.8 million annually for permanent enhanced cleaning starting in 2024 plus another $500,000 the next year, and $300,000 to support “transit space activation” such as public art and performers will be debated during the city’s annual budget debate starting Nov. 21.

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If approved, the city could hire 24 full-time transit attendants to help riders with payment, planning trips, wayfinding, and how to use the transit system. They would start working in six stations 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Other Canadian cities with large transit systems already have workers filling this role, such as Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa, according to city administration.

Research by the city found such attendants can help create a culture where people pay transit fares and they can educate riders on social programs and other city initiatives.

Ward Dene Coun. Aaron Paquette said this kind of socialization is an important part of what makes people feel safe in public spaces.

“When you have a strong community you generally have a safe community. That’s not because of enforcement, that’s because you have people who are connected to one another or feel some form of responsibility toward one another,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Transit is a core service and we should invest in it as such.”

Money for “enhanced cleaning” would top up the current $11.1 million Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) already spends on cleaning. The provincial government also gave the city a one-time grant of $5 million for cleaning on transit.

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City staff told council the enhanced cleaning has been making riders feel safer according to riders who responded to the city’s QR code survey placed in some transit stations.

Funds for “transit space activation” could be used to create activities year-round, allowing the city to work more closely with arts festivals and allow more performers to busk.

Ward Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford said there are aspects of transit safety that are out of the city’s control, but enhanced cleaning and activations are areas they can make an impact.

“I’ve definitely heard clearly from my colleagues the importance of transit safety and the importance of transit, full stop, so I felt it was really important we are debating these (at the budget),” she said Tuesday.

Asked Tuesday how and if the city will shift resources dedicated to keeping transit safe and clean with the opening of the Valley Line southeast LRT, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told Postmedia the city has the necessary resources now, but they will monitor how the opening plays out and make changes if needed. He also pointed out the new line doesn’t include underground pedestrian tunnels other than the connection to Churchill Station.

“I don’t foresee many challenges … We are ready to do what is necessary and we are putting a lot of resources into policing, into transit peace officers, to improve safety,” he said.

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