Valley Metro crackdown targets bad behaviors on light rail

Friday, 13 October 2017, 08:02:15 PM. A new code of conduct for light-rail riders will allow Valley Metro to crack down on drinking, loitering and other unsafe or nuisance behaviors.

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.

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Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith (Photo: Mark Henle/The Republic)

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 implementation 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 loading platforms and in trains to ensure all passengers are aware.

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. 

Disorderly conduct

For example, disorderly content will be more broadly defined.

Currently, if someone shouts obscenities or provokes other passengers, 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 drunk 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. If people are belligerent, they can be removed. If they're drunk — they're off," Valley Metro Board Vice Chairwoman and Phoenix Councilwoman Thelda Williams said.

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.

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Destination-based system

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 all-day 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 only allow people to remain on the platform 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 people spill drinks, behavioral problems also go up because people get irritable," Smith said. 

'Paid fare zone'

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. When you cross that line, you're now going to operate under our code of conduct," Smith said.

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.

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Enforcement

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.

App to report bad behavior

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 the behavior of other riders.

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."

 

 

 

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