The myth of the increase in violence in traffic

Crime rates have actually gone down. But workers are struggling to deal with the effects of social problems.

If you watch the news, you may be thinking twice before taking public transportation.

In Burnaby, a man was arrested last month after allegedly attacking commuters on the SkyTrain. New Westminster police were called to a train station after a stabbing. And in Surrey, a 17-year-old was stabbed to death on a bus.

News reports raised fears about safety on public transportation. Prime Minister David Eby promised action. Police increased patrols.

In reality, violent crime rates on public transportation in Metro Vancouver have been declining in recent years.

But CUPE 7000 President Tony Rebelo said SkyTrain workers are increasingly on the front lines dealing with the effects of Metro Vancouver’s social problems: homelessness, a poison drug crisis and inadequate mental health care. .

The union represents some 1,000 SkyTrain employees who are increasingly responding to people in crisis, he said.

“We are continually dealing with those things all the time,” Rebelo said. “But we’re not continually dealing with major violent crime.”

Traffic Police Cst. Travis Blair says it’s understandable that people are concerned about violent crime after such a jarring series of high-profile attacks.

But he says members of the public may be mixing up the two issues.

“As always, we just want the public to feel confident that the transit system is really safe,” Blair said. “We understand that these attacks and these violent crimes that have occurred have caused a bit of a knee-jerk reaction.”

The numbers

Rebelo has worked on SkyTrain for 21 years. Every day, its members help hundreds of thousands of people get where they are going.

“We are the boots on the ground, the eyes on the street. We are trained to observe and report. We are trained to deal with passenger issues… their ultimate goal is to keep passengers safe while in our system,” Rebelo said.

After the attacks, the Rebelo union issued a statement calling for more funding to hire SkyTrain attendants. He said public transport safety had reached “crisis” levels.

The Daily Hive recently reported that in 2022 crimes against people reported to the Metro Vancouver Transit Police increased by 15%, including a 24% increase in assaults. Reported sexual offenses also increased.

But while it is true that more crime was reported to the police in 2022, ridership also rose 48% as more people began using public transport after two years of a pandemic-induced slowdown. The likelihood of being a victim of crime actually decreased in 2022.

“To me, it’s like a numbers game where the more people you have in the system, the more prone you are to different types of emergencies, one of which is acts of violence,” Rebelo said.

When TransLink looked at the number of reported crimes relative to the number of actual ridership, it found that there were 0.48 per 100,000 ridership in 2022. That’s only slightly higher than in 2018, and well below 2021 and 2020. , when reported at 0.61 and 0.67, respectively.

Attacks against transit personnel have also decreased. In 2020, the rate of attacks on transit operators per million passengers was 0.45. In 2022, it was 0.32, about the same as in 2018.

There is also no evidence of an increase in attacks against transport workers in British Columbia. Between 2018 and 2022, WorkSafeBC received 470 complaints from transit personnel related to workplace violence. They received 88 claims in 2022, more than the previous two years but less than the number of claims they received in 2019.

But Rebelo and Blair say police and TransLink workers face other problems.

In recent years, Rebelo said, its members are increasingly helping people who have nowhere to sleep. They are responding to acute mental health episodes. “We deal with that in the system on a daily basis. People are trying to stay warm and they will use public transportation to stay warm, because they are homeless,” Rebelo said.

Staff take a week-long situational training course, Rebelo said, which is designed to train them in such scenarios, but it’s not always enough. Transit workers are among the employees most likely to file mental health injury claims with the province’s workers’ compensation system, something Rebelo said is likely due to increased awareness and the harsh realities of work.

“We don’t like to say it’s part of the job, but unfortunately, we deal with these things,” he said.

Blair, the police spokesman, has worked in transit since 2017. In that time, he says, the number of medical calls has increased.

“Definitely the medical calls have increased substantially. Just being a frontline responder, we’re seeing a lot of medical calls,” Blair said.

Neil Boyd, a criminologist and former professor at Simon Fraser University, says it’s not unusual for public perceptions of crime to differ from crime rates.

“I think what happens in these circumstances is you have one or two horrible cases. And there’s a jump from these one or two horrible cases to assuming that things have gotten out of hand and we’ve reached a new level,” Boyd said.

Boyd says that social media has amplified that effect. So has recent public safety concerns in Canada, something Blair said he welcomes.

“It’s moving in the direction of wanting answers, of wanting to put the responsibility on the provincial government, which now looks to the federal government,” Blair said.

But Boyd says that part of that concern conflates actual crime with other social issues like poverty.

“What people see and what they experience may not reach that level [of criminality]but they are uncomfortable with that situation,” Boyd said.

Blair says she doesn’t want to overrule public concerns about bus safety. “Numbers are numbers, but people have to ride the transit system every day,” he said.

But Rebelo said that violent crime, at least for its members, is not as big a problem as the daily crises they face.

“Personally, I think it’s the social issues.”