Crack­down on prob­lem rid­ers

Guards get more author­ity to en­force code of con­duct

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - JES­SICA BOEHM

Val­ley Metro CEO Scott Smith says he hears one com­mon re­frain from peo­ple fed up with pub­lic trans­porta­tion: “I won’t ride the light rail any­more.” It wor­ries him.

His agency hopes to fix the light rail’s pub­lic im­age by im­ple­ment­ing a new code of con­duct that pro­hibits un­ruly be­hav­ior and gives light-rail se­cu­rity guards more flex­i­bil­ity to re­move pas­sen­gers.

Although the light rail hasn’t seen an uptick in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, Val­ley Metro says there has been an in­crease in bad be­hav­ior on the light rail — ac­tions that don’t rise to a crim­i­nal of­fense, but do cause other pas­sen­gers to feel un­safe or un­com­fort­able.

“The per­cep­tion of light rail as a safe trans­porta­tion has suf­fered. And we hear it a lot,” Smith said.

The new rules will al­low se­cu­rity guards to re­move rid­ers for loud or ob­nox­ious an­tics, even if they’re not tech­ni­cally break­ing any laws. They will also crack down on pas­sen­gers who ride the trains back and forth with­out ex­it­ing all day.

The new code, dubbed “Re­spect the Ride,” will be im­ple­mented across the 35 sta­tions and 50 light-rail trains in the next three months, pend­ing ap­proval from the Val­ley Metro Rail Board of Di­rec­tors next week.

The bud­get for sig­nage and im­ple-

men­ta­tion is $450,000.

“I be­lieve that by hav­ing a more de­fined pol­icy on ac­cept­able be­hav­iors it will help to en­sure a safe and pos­i­tive rider ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one,” Val­ley Metro Board Chair­man and Mesa Coun­cil­man Chris Glover said in an email.

Val­ley Metro’s cur­rent code of con­duct con­sists of a hand­ful of loosely en­forced rules, Smith said.

The new code is more spe­cific and will be on signs on plat­forms and in trains.

While much of the new code con­sists of rules that are cur­rently in place — such as no smok­ing or loi­ter­ing on plat­forms — others are brand new.

For ex­am­ple, dis­or­derly con­tent will be more broadly de­fined.

Cur­rently, if some­one shouts ob­scen­i­ties or pro­vokes others, se­cu­rity guards can­not re­move the in­di­vid­ual un­til he or she be­comes phys­i­cally vi­o­lent.

“Un­der this new rule, we can ban that per­son, not be­cause of what they said but how they said it and the fact that they made peo­ple feel threat­ened,” Smith said.

The new rule also will help with drunken pas­sen­gers who are loud or ob­nox­ious. To­day, se­cu­rity guards can’t re­move these peo­ple as long as they have paid their fares.

“Peo­ple will know what the rules are and be held ac­count­able,” said Thelda Wil­liams, a Val­ley Metro Board vice chair­woman and Phoenix coun­cil­woman. “If peo­ple are bel­liger­ent, they can be re­moved. If they’re drunk — they’re off.”

Michael Reed, 47, said he’s sur­prised that’s not al­ready a rule. Reed takes the light rail daily be­tween down­town Mesa and down­town Phoenix.

“Some­times, there’s some crazy peo­ple on the train, but that’s the na­ture of liv­ing in a city,” he said.

Reed, who’s from the Bay Area, said all ma­jor cities face these is­sues with their tran­sit sys­tems.

“When you live in a city, that’s kind of part of it,” he said.

The new code spec­i­fies that use of light rail is for pas­sen­gers to get from point A to point B — not to serve as an all-day, back-and-forth ride.

Smith said se­cu­rity guards will crack down on in­di­vid­u­als pur­chas­ing an all­day light-rail pass just to sit or sleep on the train as it tra­verses across the Val­ley. If guards re­al­ize a pas­sen­ger has trav­eled from one end to the other with­out get­ting off, they can re­move them from the train.

The light rail’s cur­rent rules al­low a tick­eted pas­sen­ger to re­main on a plat­form for up to an hour. The new rules will al­low peo­ple to re­main on the plat­form only un­til the ar­rival of the next train.

“If you’re on a plat­form, you bet­ter be go­ing to some­where or coming from some­where,” Smith said.

Val­ley Metro also will put more em­pha­sis on en­forc­ing and pro­mot­ing some of the most abused rules, such as a pro­hi­bi­tion on bring­ing open drink con­tain­ers aboard.

“We find that, be­lieve it or not, when

“The per­cep­tion of light rail as a safe trans­porta­tion has suf­fered. And we hear it a lot.” SCOTT SMITH VAL­LEY METRO CEO

peo­ple spill drinks, be­hav­ioral prob­lems also go up be­cause peo­ple get ir­ri­ta­ble,” Smith said.

By the start of next year, the en­trances to all light-rail plat­forms will have a bright or­ange strip on the ground that reads, “Paid fare zone.”

Cor­re­spond­ing sig­nage will in­form passers-by that once they cross onto the plat­form, they have to ob­tain a ticket and are ex­pected to ad­here by Val­ley Metro’s rules.

“The re­al­ity is, when you’re on the out­side of that line, you op­er­ate un­der one set of rules,” Smith said. “When you cross that line, you’re now go­ing to op­er­ate un­der our code of con­duct.”

The new zones will al­low Val­ley Metro and lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers to “own the plat­form” and pre­vent bad ac­tors from board­ing trains.

“If some­one shows up on the plat­form and they’re ob­vi­ously in­tox­i­cated and ob­nox­ious, it’s much bet­ter if they don’t ever get on the train,” Smith said.

If an in­di­vid­ual doesn’t fol­low the new code of con­duct, a se­cu­rity guard will ask them to leave. If the in­di­vid­ual re­fuses, the guard will call po­lice of­fi­cers and have him or her ar­rested for tres­pass­ing, Smith said.

“We don’t want peo­ple to be ar­rested — we want peo­ple who be­have badly to be­have well or to not get on our trains,” he said.

Val­ley Metro can also ban chronic rule break­ers for a pe­riod of 24 hours or longer.

The agency em­ploys 80 se­cu­rity of­fi­cers, but their main fo­cus has been on fare en­force­ment, Smith said. The agency is cur­rently re­train­ing guards to de­vote more at­ten­tion to stop­ping bad be­hav­ior.

If the re­train­ing is not enough to en­force the new rules, the agency will con­sider in­creas­ing its bud­get next year to hire ad­di­tional guards, Smith said.

By the first of the year, rid­ers will have the abil­ity to as­sist se­cu­rity guards in mon­i­tor­ing nui­sances.

Smith said Val­ley Metro is work­ing on a phone app and tex­ting sys­tem to al­low pas­sen­gers to text con­cerns while on light rail.

Jenelle Gooder, 21, said she would likely use the app.

“Right now, the only thing you can do is hit the call but­ton. But if you feel un­safe, you’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to want to use that,” she said.

She takes the light rail daily for work and said she of­ten feels un­safe or un­com­fort­able be­cause of others’ bad be­hav­ior. Smith wants that to change.

“I think one of the prob­lems we have now, one of the chal­lenges, is that pas­sen­gers don’t re­ally un­der­stand what their rights are. They have a right to ride in a safe en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “They don’t have to take bad be­hav­ior. We don’t ex­pect them to just shut up and put up.”

More on­line: Go to azcentral .com to see more photos from the light rail. Of­fi­cials say that while light rail is still safe, there has been an uptick in bad be­hav­ior. NICK OZA/ THE REPUB­LIC

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