Updates August 2023
As part of implementation of Transit is the Answer, the RTA, working with the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office, Elevated Chicago, and the Chicago Community Trust, will hold a cross-sector event focused on safety and security on transit with a focus on holistic approaches to making the system safer and more secure for everyone.
Improving safety and security on transit was a top priority for strategic plan working group members, so to gather more input on this initiative, in August, the RTA held its second Transit is the Answer coalition meeting with more than 100 current and new coalition members in attendance. As with our previous coalition meeting on funding and expanding reduced fare programs, the input from this conversation was presented to our Board of Directors and will be critical to the planning of the event and any initiatives that arise from it.
Why it matters
Everyone deserves to feel safe riding transit. A safe and secure system is also necessary to attract, retain, and protect a talented transit workforce.
While crime on transit is down from a peak reached during the pandemic, it is still unacceptably high and contributes to some riders’ decision to ride less frequently or not at all.
The transit system is part of a larger regional ecosystem with other economic and societal trends at play. 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 is needed.
Progress on Safety and Security to Date
- 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).
To work toward a successful cross-sector event and subsequently effective strategies to improve safety on transit, the RTA sought to convene partners and activate transit champions. A key venue for this was the newly elected Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s transportation transition subcommittee, which was co-chaired by RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard, Elevated Chicago Executive Director, Roberto Requejo, and Illinois State Representative Kam Buckner.
The diverse group of civic leaders agreed improving safety on public transit should be a top priority, while acknowledging that many aspects of the issue are beyond the direct control of transit agencies.
Transit safety recommendations adopted in the Mayor’s Transition Report included:
- Enhance safety, security, and cleanliness at stations and on buses and trains with new programs and personnel, such as a transit ambassador initiative.
- Partner with RTA and transit operators to host a cross-sector safety summit that includes social service providers and identifies holistic solutions to safety, security, and cleanliness issues.
- Respond to non-violent emergencies and mental health crises on public transportation through humane, “treatment not trauma” responses.
At the end of the subcommittee’s work, Requejo and Dillard agreed that the RTA and Elevated would advance the summit with support from the Chicago Community Trust and input from the Transit is the Answer coalition and other community-based organizations and advocates.
Strategies from Other Regions
During the August 2023 Coalition meeting, RTA staff categorized strategies for discussion and provided case studies that we believe have proven successful in other regions as a starting point for discussion.
Create spaces linked to transit stations where people experiencing homelessness can access food, showers, laundry, etc.
Increasing non-police presence on vehicles with personnel to assist riders
Social Service Partnerships
Deploy social workers and mental health experts in non-violent situations
Activating space in and around transit stations with musical performances, art, etc.
Input from coalition members and other stakeholders
Personal safety and the perception of safety have a real impact on people's willingness to ride.
Increased human presence on transit and in stations via transit ambassadors
Activating space in and around stations with visual and performing arts
Advocating for larger policy solutions to address homelessness such as Bring Chicago Home
The RTA is continuing to engage with the City of Chicago, Chicago Community Trust, Elevated Chicago, the Service Boards, and coalition members and are forming a summit planning group to meet this fall with a public event planned for early 2024.