Transit safety 101

Owais talks to a City of Edmonton rep to get some tips for using transit safely.


Owais headshot

YouAlberta is written by students for students.

Owais (he/him) is a third-year mechanical engineering major in the Faculty of Engineering, born and raised in the Sultanate of Oman (close to Dubai). With a taste for adventure, his future plans include exploring South America and Antarctica, but for now, you can find Owais enjoying a good Tom Clancy book while sipping on his favourite Tim’s coffee. His favourite place on campus is on the eighth floor of DICE to soak in the panoramic views of downtown and the river valley, along with enjoying the lively atmosphere of hanging out with fellow engineering students.

Last year, I flew into Canada for the first time, facing a new reality of having to rely on public transportation to move around Edmonton. This sharply contrasted with what I had experienced before when I was used to travelling in a vehicle. Transit safety was not a topic I was very familiar with, and, as a result, I faced many challenges. I slowly came to realize just how to make travelling on public transit safer for me. To ensure that others do not face the same challenges I did, I hope to share what I have learned in the past year on how to make your experience in transit safer. In order to share the right advice with fellow students, I had the opportunity to speak with Tana Vea, who has been working for the City of Edmonton for more than two decades with a focus on transit and corporate security. 

The first thing to understand is why transit safety matters so much to us as students at the U of A. Having a safe commute to and from the university is essential for the safety of students. According to a student survey conducted in spring 2023 by the University of Alberta Safety and Security Committee, students felt less safe at transit stops and stations than at other locations on campus. Feeling safe while commuting can significantly impact how we feel about our overall campus experience at the university. So, let us dive into resources and general advice on making ourselves safer while commuting.

One of the most important things to remember is what to do in case of any incident that occurs while commuting, be it in the transit center or the bus/LRT. The City of Edmonton has a Transit Watch program, which can be reached by either calling or texting 780-442-4900 and is available all days of the week; this connects the user directly to security personnel. Use Transit Watch to report harassment, disorder or suspicious behaviour. All LRT cars are equipped with red alarm buttons and pull handles. If a user pushes this button, a silent alarm is triggered and the LRT train stops at the next station with all doors opening to ensure a safe way to exit. All stations are also equipped with blue emergency phones, which, when used directly, connect to security and switches on the overhead CCTV camera. 

In case of an incident at a transit stop or station on campus, the first thing to remember is to contact the Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) through transit watch or use the blue phone rather than call the University Protective Services (UAPS), as these emergency services will contact UAPS if needed or send other resources. 

The first thing to do in an emergency is call 911 so that they can dispatch the resources needed immediately, and students should switch on the ability to call 911 using Wi-Fi on their phones as cell service can be very spotty in underground stations.

During the evenings, a point to keep in mind is that ETS buses can be requested to make a stop between scheduled stops after 6 p.m. – all a commuter has to do is tell the bus driver in advance where exactly they want to be dropped off between the scheduled stops, which is very helpful, especially in winters and when there is no traffic outside. 

The University of Alberta Students Union (UASU) offers a free service in the evenings called Safewalk, which operates between Monday-Friday during the hours of 7 p.m.-12 a.m. These safe walk volunteers will drop students off within ten blocks of any LRT station, this can help make commuting at night safer for students who are travelling alone. 

I also do some things as a transit rider to make my ride most comfortable.  I often set up a time to travel together with fellow students who are going to the same place or use Safewalk at night if travelling alone. I also like to remain alert by keeping my noise-cancelling headphones away and sitting in the first car if travelling in the LRT or near the operator while travelling in a bus.

To summarize, travel with other people whenever possible and familiarize yourselves with the resources available like ETS Transit Watch, Safewalk and emergency buttons/blue phones. If travelling alone, make sure that you are alert at all times. In case of intoxication, consider taking an Uber rather than public transportation. Remember to make personal choices that help you feel safe.

Remembering these tips and exercising general caution will ensure that commuting is as safe as possible for all of us and make our university experience much more enjoyable. 

All transit area locations in Edmonton are the property of the City of Edmonton and, therefore, are under the jurisdiction of ETS and Edmonton Police Service (EPS). The U of A is actively engaged with Edmonton’s transit safety team as well as various city groups to address broader community safety issues.

Visit the Edmonton Transit Safety and Security web page for more information on transit safety.