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CHICAGO (CBS) — Early Sunday morning, a man was robbed at both gunpoint and knifepoint at the 95th Street Chicago Transit Authority Red Line terminal.
It is part of a spike we’ve been tracking closely for months at CBS 2. Tara Molina has been looking at how other cities are handling safety and security – specifically, the reporting of issues and concerns.
Molina also brought examples to the CTA of security apps that are working in other cities, like Los Angeles, making it easier for passengers to get help and share information.
We want to know why we don’t have something similar in Chicago.
Reporting safety and security concerns with a few clicks – indeed there’s an app for that in Los Angeles, where passengers on the Metro can file a report or reach security with just a few taps through the LA Metro Transit Watch app.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority called the app their way of directly connecting with passengers 24/7. Passengers contact Metro Security by text message or phone call and can remain anonymous – and they even use the app to submit photos of concerns on trains, buses, platforms, or stops.
Passengers can also get push notifications with critical alerts from LA Metro, and there is Spanish-language support.
In Miami, passengers are using the Go Miami-Dade Transit app. A spokesperson said incidents reported on the app go directly to security dispatchers monitoring it 24/7. They can send the right first responders that way, and chat with passengers in real time.
Miami-Dade Transit said in a statement:
“Any security incidents reported through the app go directly to our contracted security dispatchers. The app dispatcher is staffed 24/7/365. The dispatcher can then notify police, fire rescue, security, etc., to respond as needed. The app allows the dispatcher to initiate a text feature that allows the complainant/reporting party to communicate with the dispatcher in real-time.”
There is nothing of the sort in place in Chicago. The only way CTA passengers can report issues is through the intercom units on train cars, emergency call boxes on platforms, or by calling 911.
And those limited options don’t always work. Last week, a tweet expressed a concern about a man threatening people on a train, and a call to 911 – since directly notifying the CTA wasn’t easy at all.
“I don’t think pressing buttons on the train to alert is nearly as feasible for people in those difficult spots as using an app,” said transportation expert and DePaul University professor Joseph Schwieterman.
Schwieterman said he hasn’t heard conversations about something similar being implemented in Chicago, but it could help – especially now.
“Having an app where you can press when you need assistance – when some harm is coming in your way – could be done quietly, instantly, but also allow people to feel they’re being heard in that critical moment,” he said.
Schwieterman added that there is even already a platform on which such an app could be set up for the CTA.
“Most riders are using Ventra now. There’s different features on it,” he said. “So they’re used to going to a common place for that transit experience, so these kind of add-ons, or a complementary app, really would be an easy sell.”
Schwieterman said such technology could provide data to help the CTA improve its system too.
“They can report problem spots. That can be mapped. That can be evaluated. We can see trends,” he said, “and that can give CTA some early warning where problems may be cropping up.”
So, could we see something like this on the Ventra app? Or a new app? The CTA released this statement:
“Customer safety is our No. 1 priority at the CTA. We encourage all our riders to always be aware of their surroundings, whether in transit or in any other public setting. If one’s immediate safety is threatened, customers should always call 911. We recognize that this is not always easy to do so in the moment, which is why we also suggest exiting a railcar at the next stop and either calling 911 or alerting the nearest CTA employee who can call/radio for police or medical assistance. If on a bus, customers can notify the operator who can activate a silent alarm, if needed, to request emergency responders.
“We are always exploring opportunities to enhance our existing customer communications channels and identify new platforms for customer communication.”
The CTA did not address questions regarding possibility of this kind of tech or app and whether this has ever been discussed considered. We put the request in last Wednesday to allow for plenty of time for city to address the issue and respond.
Meanwhile, we also checked with St. Louis, which used to have a personal safety app – but doesn’t anymore:
“Metro Transit in St. Louis does not currently offer a personal safety app. We contracted with the Noonlight (which previously was SafeTrek) from March 2018 through March 2020 to help our transit riders feel more comfortable when they were on the Metro Transit system or anywhere in the St. Louis region. The app enabled our customers to directly reach out law enforcement via Noonlight. There was no feature to upload a photo through the Noonlight app as part of our agreement.
“There are several things we encourage Metro Transit riders to do if they need the police or assistance or want to report something happening on the system. If it is an emergency, they should always call 9-11. They can also text our Public Safety Dispatchers or use one of our Passenger Assist Telephones located at our transit centers which go directly to the Public Safety Dispatchers. If they see a police officer or security officer, they can directly reach out for assistance while on a MetroLink train or at a transit center.”
St. Louis Metro Transit did not explain why they no longer have such an app.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City does not have a safety app either. Its website advises calling 911 in the event of an emergency, using a station help point intercom, or finding an MTA employee or a police officer – not unlike guidance for the CTA. Crime on the New York City subway is also a major concern lately – a man was shot and killed on a train entering Lower Manhattan in what is believed to be a random attack on Sunday.