1223 words – MR
Beyond simple enforcement
by Bill Grodzinski
Celebrating its 46th year of operation, GO Transit has evolved from a single rail line running along the shores of Lake Ontario between Toronto and Hamilton to a network carrying 65 million passengers a year across an 11,000 square kilometre area.
As the popularity of GO Transit grew each year, it became evident the system needed a unit dedicated to keeping passengers safe and maintaining the integrity of the newly introduced proof-of-payment honour fare system.
GO hired its first transit enforcement officers in 1988. They were sworn in as special constables in June 1992 through a sponsorship program with the Ontario Provincial Police, receiving limited police authority. They were rebranded as transit safety officers (TSO) in 2009, when the unit underwent wholesale changes in many different areas, including uniforms and mandate.
The transit safety model represented an overall shift in philosophy at GO Transit toward becoming more customer service and safety focused, enhancing its mandate beyond simply enforcement.
Transit safety officers are responsible for enforcing specific provincial laws and all of the Criminal Code on GO Transit property. One of the main laws officers use is Metrolinx By-law No. 2, which contains guidelines that govern the fare system and passenger behaviour. It allows officers to issue violation and provincial offence notices when these rules are broken.
Officers carry handcuffs, expandable batons and OC Foam as their use of force options. They have numerous obligations and duties throughout the transit system, specifically to conduct mobile patrol and provide officer presence. They also handle calls relating to parking complaints, trespassing and illegal activity along the railway lines and train-related fatalities.
In conjunction with customer attendants (COs) (provincial offences officers) TSOs also conduct proof-of-payment checks on trains to maintain the integrity of the honour fare system. Field officers are supported by a centralized dispatch centre providing a crucial communication link around the clock.
Transit safety has 79 sworn TSOs, 16 COs, eight full time dispatchers and a fleet of more than 20 specially marked vehicles equipped with emergency equipment, mobile workstations and a UHF radio system linked to the bus and rail network. The unit reports directly to the safety and security director.
Transit safety has worked directly with all Toronto area police services and the coroners office on a service recovery protocol to decrease the length of delays following fatalities and collisions.
This protocol is designed to ensure trains are released more quickly after being involved in a fatality. While death investigations must be completed in accordance with the law and the highest level of thoroughness, rush hour trains carry more than 2,000 passengers. The impact of a rail corridor closure can quickly escalate to involve tens of thousands of customers, with no possibility of re-routing as with vehicular traffic.
Delays related to fatalities have resulted in additional medical emergencies, panic and passenger self-evacuation onto potentially live tracks; all can pose real challenges to responders. Past incidents routinely took three or more hours for release of the train and the trapped passengers. The coroners protocol has enabled quicker releases, with a goal of a quality investigation and optimal 90 minute release.
The protocol is based on police and the coroner determining a fatality as non-suspicious in nature. A transit safety sergeant attends all occurrences and acts as GO’s emergency incident coordinator, directing TSOs to assist as required to support the investigation. This can include helping to arrange interviews with the train crew, reviewing other available evidence such as on-board train video and post-incident data downloads from locomotive and signalling equipment.
If the coroner and police are satisfied that the fatality was a suicide, they can authorize release of the affected train, speeding up the resumption of normal service. The protocol has been successful in dramatically reducing the length of delays following fatalities.
Transit safety is an active supporter of the national railway safety education program Operation Lifesaver, which uses age-appropriate material to educate the public on the dangers of trespassing on or near train tracks.
Qualified TSOs visit schools and community events to promote this important safety message. Transit safety also actively participates in many other safety initiatives through partnerships with other agencies, including Mothers against Drunk Driving, ‘Lock It or Lose It’ campaigns and the Ministry of Transportation’s ‘Do the Bright Thing’ pedestrian safety program.
GO Transit drafted a passenger charter in 2009 to promote an ongoing commitment to customer service. One of the promises made to passengers is to “always take your safety seriously.” Officers are dedicated to delivering on that promise and ensuring a safe and secure experience for all.
A typical shift riding the rails could see a TSO interact with hundreds of customers, from regular daily commuters to the thousands of people attending special events in downtown Toronto. This work environment presents many potential challenges, but a customer service approach has proven to resonate with all. TSOs have learned that treating people with respect is paramount to success.
Customer service remains a focal point through the fare evasion process. As an alternative to issuing Provincial Offence Notices for fare related matters, TSOs may issue violation notices, permitting the customer to work through the compliance and prosecution services office, established in 2010. Through an alternative dispute resolution process, customers can request a review of their violation via email, telephone or in-person with a review and resolution officer. A customer may proceed to request a hearing after a review if they still wish. This new process is more efficient and frees up valuable court time for more contentious issues.
Committed to eliminating the risk of injury to workers, passengers and the general public, the system safety office is entrusted with ensuring that all GO operating divisions comply with all relevant safety acts, regulations, guidelines and industry best practices.
System safety strives to continually improve safety performance levels by identifying and assessing risks, implementing controls and resources to address those risks and ensuring that employees and contractors are trained in safety management policies and procedures.
Thousands of people apply each year for TSO positions, which require an OACP certificate of results or special constable applicant certificate. After screening, selected applicants undergo further testing and must pass several different interviews and an OPP background check and psychological assessment. After a final review by a leadership team, they are offered employment pending successful completion of a 16 week training regimen and six month probationary period.
Training ranges from classroom academics to dynamic use of force scenarios with professional actors simulating real-life situations. Recruits are further mentored by field coach officers and are also trained by the compliance and prosecution services team.
Future challenges for the GO Safety and Security Division include the upcoming 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games and major expansion projects such as the revitalization of Union Station and the Union-Pearson Rail Link.
Growth in public transit continues across the Toronto and Hamilton area. Ensuring the GO system remains one of the safest in North America is a growing responsibility.
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Bill Grodzinski is the safety and security director for GO Transit, a division of Metrolinx, a former chief superintendent in charge of the OPP Traffic Safety Division and a former contributor to
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