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Edmonton Transit upping security to tackle homeless ‘party bus’ problem

Coronavirus outbreak: City of Edmonton on LRT cleaning, automated crosswalks and roads turned to multi-use paths
Interim city manager Adam Laughlin said all LRT passengers will have to disembark at Century Park and NAIT to allow for train cleaning and peace officers will continue to direct destinationless riders to more appropriate places. He also addressed automating crosswalks and lane closures.

Security changes were brought in Wednesday night to put a stop to Edmonton Transit vehicles being used as rolling homeless shelters.

It’s in response to a “coughing” incident from Sunday, April 5 that led to charges against a 38-year-old Edmonton man under the Public Health Act.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Man who coughed on Edmonton bus driver, transit officers charged with assault

Since then, transit staff have documented other incidents. Councillor Tony Caterina told Global News his inbox got over a dozen unique complaints.

“Between the last two days, I’ve received over 12 emails from actual drivers that are sort of at their wits’ end,” Caterina said.

“Being able to stay on the bus all day long and do basically whatever they feel like doing, and a lot of things would be considered illegal under any other circumstance.”

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LISTEN BELOW: How are the homeless surviving the COVID-19 pandemic?

Steve Bradshaw, the president for the union, said in posting to his members on the ATU569 website, as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, transit peace officers stationed at Century Park will “clear the trains of all passengers, every trip.

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“Those with no destination will be put onto special buses and transported to the agencies downtown or to whatever stop they want on the way.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Man who coughed on Edmonton bus driver, transit officers charged with assault

The plan for Edmonton Transit is to expand that security measure, adding the NAIT LRT station Thursday, and then through the long weekend on specified bus routes, if the changes on the LRT are successful.

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Bradshaw said in an email to Global News, the intent is to include routes “1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 15, and potentially others.”

Caterina said city councillors will review the plan at Thursday’s meeting of the Emergency Advisory Committee.

“I hope that there’s a plan in place. I have advised the city manager Adam Laughlin and David Aitken (who’s leading the city’s pandemic task team) on the circumstances. I’ve forwarded all of the emails to them in order for them to get a good indication of what is actually going on.”

READ MORE: Edmonton adjusts roads, pedestrian call buttons to promote physical distancing

Problems with the so-called “party buses,” as Caterina put it, began when ETS dropped fares as part of the pandemic plan.

Bradshaw said the “no-fare” policy was insisted on by the union, “all the way to the International in Washington and with our employers’ desire to reduce contact between operators and the public, this is one of those ‘unintended consequences.'”

On Tuesday, the City of Edmonton also announced further measures to promote physical distancing on city buses.

READ MORE: Edmonton adjusts roads, pedestrian call buttons to promote physical distancing

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New signs are being installed on some seats, closing them off to riders.