Safety and Security on Public Transit

The safety of transit users, transit operators, and the general public is a priority for any transit system. Over the years, and as technology progresses, security measures are also evolving to adapt to new and different types of potential incidents to provide a pro-active, preventative, and viable approach to public safety.

This past May, the Canadian Association for Chiefs of Police and the Metro Vancouver Transit Police co-hosted the Urban Public Transit – Policing and Security Conference, titled ‘Policing Moving Cities’ in Vancouver, BC. During the conference, police, intelligence, and transit organizations came together from across North America and the UK to share knowledge on current safety and security issues, and promote best practices, research, and innovation. The conference was attended by prominent figures in the policing and transit authority industries. Speakers included Chief Officer in the Metro Vancouver Transit Police, Doug LePard, O.O.M., M.A.; President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), Mario Harel; Chief Constable of British Transport Police (BTP) Paul Crowther O.B.E., Chief Joe Fox of the New York Police Transit Bureau, Director of Safety and Security at Metrolinx, Bill Grodzinski;, and Security and Intelligence Specialist, Ron Perkio.

Photo by AndroidUK

One of the many topics discussed was the need for partnerships and building relationships between transit systems, local police, and national intelligence to better share information, and provide cohesive and complementary support to one another.  For example, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is now able to reduce threat levels by initiating the action of local police forces or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) instead of simply playing an advisory role. Similarly, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police (MTA) collaborate on handling incidents. Together they have implemented backpack screenings at transit stations and transit K-9 units as part of their operations. The NYPD also uses Twitter to provide live updates to citizens regarding breaking news and event coverage. Different agencies talked about their mechanisms for disrupting and preventing potential threats, including terrorism. As a rule of thumb, transit users and public transit operators are strongly encouraged to follow the ‘see something, say something’ mantra as a precaution.


When it comes to the cooperation between different agencies and organizations, the speed of an interaction becomes a deciding factor in the success of an operation.

Technological advancements have been essential to improving the speed of interactions between organizations when cooperating on an incident.  The introduction of the cloud has allowed for instant communication and access to information between different parties, thus eliminating the big hurdle of USBs, DVDs, fax machines, and the physical transportation of material and files.

Transit systems have numerous security protocols in place to protect passengers and operators from security threats, including violence towards bus drivers. Installing video cameras on buses has proven to be one of the most successful safety measures.

According to the Director of Operations at Coast Mountain Bus Company, Don Rice, the implementation of video cameras on vehicles has been a significant factor in causing crime rates to drop and significantly assist in the investigation of offences.

And while video recording tools still lack the ability to auto-examine content, artificial intelligence is being developed with the purpose of analyzing and transcribing the security footage. The creation of a CCTV analysis hub was discussed as a valuable tool.

Safety protocols can also play a role in suicide prevention, especially around railroad tracks. In 2014, a UK-based registered charity called Samaritans joined hands with British Transport Police and Network Rail in order to launch a suicide prevention program aimed at reducing railway suicide. The prevention program includes de-stigmatising mental health, encouraging at-risk individuals to seek help, compulsory suicide training for the health sector, and touring UK schools in an effort to increase awareness and promote mental health. A private Middlesex University report states that police need to also be trained in handling suicidal passengers, given that many transit organizations do not have police officers or a parallel police authority, and are, therefore, dependant on other agencies. Equally important is the implementation of mental health programs for transit operators who may witness suicides on their trains and develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Some transit systems have implemented programs to help support their operators after these events.

The TTC won a Safety and Security Award during the 2017 CUTA Leadership Awards for its Peer Support Program which helped build bonds between TTC employees affected by these events, and prompted a 44-percent decrease in lost days due to trauma.

The Canadian National Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Metrolinx suggested a holistic national approach to suicide prevention combining funding for the creation of a suicide hotline, interpersonal training for employees, and PTSD treatment for employees affected by suicidal incidents.

Safety and security on public transit is not only reactive to threatening situations, but also proactive in stopping accidents before they happen and preventing threats from taking place. This includes reducing suicide rates to zero with the implementation of subway barriers and/or of scanners at subway entrances to prevent and subvert the entry of dangerous items or weaponry.


It is also important to ensure that there is cellular reception, internet connection, or even charging stations in underground subway stations so that passengers are not isolated. Currently, the TTC is installing its TCONNECT Wi-Fi network across the entire subway system, with access also being granted to some cellular network providers as well. Similarly, the Société de Transport de Montréal is deploying a state-of-the-art, system-wide mobile coverage in all of its tunnels, metro cars, and stations, to be completed over a period of seven years, thanks to a joint 50-million dollar investment from Bell, Rogers, TELUS, and Vidéotron.

As for the safety of transit operators, CUTA is playing an active role through the Transit Ambassador program, working with transit systems to train operators to avoid, recognize and defuse potential conflicts. Some of the notable measures that transit systems across Canada have begun to implement are detailed in our blog, “Safety for our Transit Operatos.”

Providing a safe commute to millions of passengers across the country requires a great deal of effort, cooperation and resources. With the help of a multitude of intelligence agencies across North America, local police forces, and the public and private sectors, public transit today provides an increasingly secure environment. Technological advances have allowed for easy communication between coordinating organization to keep commuters safe. Transit agencies are working tirelessly to advance security protocols, and riders continue to play an important role too…if you see something, say something.

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