Transit ambassadors, lighting and interventions. How public transit might get safer in Chicago area

Chicago area transit leaders, advocacy groups and national experts brainstormed ways to improve security and prevent crime on trains and buses this week.

“We believe that every rider and every operator deserves to feel safe on transit,” Regional Transportation Authority Chairman Kirk Dillard said Tuesday at a Public Transit Safety and Security Summit in Chicago.

A 2023 survey indicated just half of CTA rail riders were satisfied with security on trains, an agency analysis showed. In contrast, about 90% of Metra riders and 80% of Pace riders felt safe on trains and buses, respectively.

Top commuter concerns were dangerous behaviors, substance abuse, damaged property, dirty conditions, and homelessness.

CTA President Dorval Carter said the agency is working “diligently” to address safety problems and perceptions about crime on trains.

“When we look at the number of people who ride our system every day and we look at the size of our system, we’re carrying the equivalent, of say, the city of Philadelphia every day,” Carter said.

“And when you look at that statistically, the crime is very low. But to people who experience crime, of course, it is, very significant to them. And, obviously we have to continue to work to reduce that crime statistic as much as possible.”

Transit experts from California and Minnesota offered perspective.

Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Metro Transit takes a layered approach to security that includes police, community service officers and private security, General Manager Lesley Kandaras said.

The Los Angeles Metro system uses transit ambassadors along with police, said Stephen Tu, deputy executive officer for station experience.

“They're the welcoming face of our system,” Tu said. He added ambassadors don’t intervene when there’s criminal activity but are equipped to alert police.

Agency chiefs said a holistic approach — including partnering with social service agencies to help people suffering from drug addiction or who are homeless — has reduced problems.

Also, clean facilities, preventing littering, ensuring fares are collected and providing better lighting are simple but effective ways of raising rider morale and preventing crime, experts said.

Another solution is attractive, inviting stations.

“We find that when we have public art at stations, it does deter vandalism and it also is a way to partner with the community to make it feel like a shared space,” Kandaras said.

Restrooms were scarce on the Metro LA system so the agency contracted with the Throne company to provide portable public washrooms. Using a “Throne” requires a cellphone to unlock it with a 10-minute limit.

However security investments aren’t free, the visitors noted. And the CTA, Metra and Pace face a $730 million shortfall in 2026.

State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Ram Villivalam said the General Assembly is “much more open to voting for the funding that’s needed, however, we want to see the results.”

Tuesday’s summit “does not conclude the RTA’s focus on this issue,” Dillard said, adding new initiatives will be forthcoming.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.