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Regional Transit Announces Plans To Improve Safety Across The System

Melody Stone / Capital Public Radio

Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley delivers the annual State of RT address, outlining the improvements planned for the system to deal with the new arena and safety concerns.

Melody Stone / Capital Public Radio

At the State of Regional Transit address Friday, Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley announced plans to improve RT's safety and cleanliness, as well as, prepare for the opening of the downtown arena.

“When the Golden 1 Center opens in October, we will be ready,” says Wiley.

He outlined ways RT will help new riders feel comfortable, saying they’re going to need “hand holding” at first. He says RT will increase the train frequency to limit wait times and all the stations around downtown are getting facelifts.

“We’re upgrading lighting, we’re creating structural detailing, we’re improving the planters, the seating, dynamic message signs, a whole host of things are going into station improvements,” says Wiley.

The biggest concern for train and bus operators is safety.

Ralph Niz is the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local No. 256, which represents light rail and bus operators. He’s been with RT for 28 years.

“Our operators are assaulted quite a bit,” says Niz. “There was an assault yesterday, there was an assault Friday.”

Light Rail Operator Joe Gamble says he fears for his safety several times a month.

“Recently I had a situation where I didn’t have room to pick someone up and he became upset and he threw something through an open window - and it hit me in the temple. It was a metal object of some kind. I saw stars,” says Gamble.

Working with the ATU, Wiley says they will add 30 new transit officers to check fares and hand out citations. Niz says this is a step in the right direction.

“We feel that the transit agents will help free up security for the rest of the system,” says Niz.

Fare evasion is rampant on buses and light rails and new officers will help, says Wiley.

“Everybody riding that system is going to have the knowledge that they could very well get inspected. I think you’re going to see our fare evasion rate drop significantly,” says Wiley.

Purchasing tickets will also be easier, thanks to a new smartphone app currently being tested as a pilot.

“We need to transition away from paper products, we need to transition away from the typical tickets we need an electronic fare medium and we need it now, so we’re moving as quickly as we can to permanently put that in place,” says Wiley.

In an effort to improve safety, RT is implementing another smartphone app to help riders submit problems.

“We will enhance the ability for people to report issues on the system. Safety, security, cleanliness are probably the biggest issues,” says Wiley. “We’ve awarded a contract to purchase and install a new smartphone application that will allow you to communicate directly to the department at RT that’s responsible for the particular challenge.”

Gamble says all these moves are stepping stones toward improving safety for riders and operators, but there’s still work to do.

“I hope to see us rebuilding and moving forward. It’s really important that everybody is involved in the process," says Gamble. We’re broken and we have to work together to fix it.”