TransLink safety in focus after teen stabbed; CEO condemns violence
Saying everyone has the right to feel safe on transit, TransLink’s chief executive officer is condemning a string of violent incidents on the Metro Vancouver system in recent weeks.
What has been playing out on the system is “absolutely unacceptable,” says TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn, who adds, as a father, what happened to Ethan Bespflug, who was fatally stabbed on a bus in Surrey this week, was particularly upsetting.
“I’m angry, we’re really angry, we’re very frustrated. I am bothered by these events, and as a parent of two transit-riding kids every single day, I am concerned. The fact is that we will not stand for these types of incidents on our system. We will not allow criminals or those who want to commit crimes to come onto our system. This is our system, this is the region’s transit system, and we will not stand for this,” he said Friday.
Still, when pressed on whether there are any plans to bring more police onto the transit system, Quinn wasn’t definitive beyond saying two dozen community safety officers are already in the process of joining the Metro Vancouver Transit Police.
“Transit police have already stepped up patrols in crime hot spots and the forthcoming 24 community safety officers will allow our police to further focus their efforts on criminal activity,” he said, urging anyone who feels unsafe on the transit system to text police at 87-77-77.
Quinn notes TransLink is the only transit agency in the country with its own dedicated police service, with 184 officers on the system “at any given time.”
He says police officers are a “good part of any strategy,” but not the only solution.
“Look, at our peak hours, we have 1,100 buses out and about throughout the entire Metro Vancouver region. We have 63 SkyTrain stations, 90 SkyTrain cars in service at any moment. There’s not enough officers to put a single person on every single one of those vehicles. I think we’ve got to recognize it’s going to be a multi-pronged strategy. Are police one of those prongs? Absolutely, sure,” Quinn said.
“It’s going to be a multi-faceted approach. It’s not just police.”
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming was also asked about safety on transit Friday, just days after the union representing bus drivers in Metro Vancouver renewed calls for increased police and security presence at SkyTrain stations and bus loops in the region.
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He says he has met with unions to talk about safety for transit operators.
“They have my commitment to continue to take additional steps to make our transit systems — whether it’s BC Transit or TransLink — as safe as they possibly can be. That may mean some new initiatives,” Fleming said.
The minister says the province has heard concerns, adding the public safety minister has coordinated with police forces to step up enforcement.
However, he admits this issue affects more than just the transit system.
“It is absolutely sad and unacceptable that a young man lost his life this week on the transit system. This is about unacceptable levels of violence in society — it’s not specifically about the transit system, though that was the site of where that tragedy occurred,” Fleming explained.
“This is a bigger issue that governments like ours and governments across the country are trying to address through a variety of interventions around mental health, addictions, a more effective public safety system.”
He adds the province is also working with the federal government to address gaps.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable to see any violence on our transit system. This is a plea for greater civility broadly, I think, in our province and across our country, but specifically zero tolerance for violence on the transit system,” Fleming said.
The transportation minister would not commit to more police officers. Calling the local transit police system “one of the most robust” in Canada, he adds other jurisdictions are studying the Metro Vancouver structure to see what they can adapt to address safety in their communities.
Meanwhile, Ethan Bespflug’s mother is among those calling for change, urging families and communities to intervene to support youth with violent tendencies. The teen’s family is also pushing for more police and security resources for the transit system.