City disproportionately ticketing transit riders with no fixed address: report

Dec 3 2019, 1:59 pm

Edmontonians with no fixed address are being disproportionately ticketed while riding Edmonton Transit Services, according to a new report.

The report, titled “How Transit Peace Officers and Edmonton Police Services prohibited and penalized homelessness in 2018,” was created by Student Legal Services of Edmonton based on freedom of information requests.

It says that in 2018, Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) Peace Officers gave 5,416 tickets to riders without a fixed address. These figures work out to “about $723 from every Edmontonian who experienced homelessness in 2018, which would make up 97% of a month’s income for someone on Income Support.”

The report defines someone as having “no fixed address” if they do not have an address to disclose, if they disclose that they are homeless, if they disclose an address that an officer believes is not credible, or if they are uncooperative with an officer and an address is not recorded.

The ticket total included 2,102 trespassing tickets for breaching bans, which is 86% of all the trespass tickets ETS issued for breaching bans last year, as well as 561 tickets for loitering on transit property or in transit vehicles, making up 79% of all loitering tickets issued by the ETS last year.

“The data previously released in a FOIP request included a combination of those who answered that they had ‘no fixed address’ or they did not provide an address,” wrote Chrystal Coleman in an email to Daily Hive.

According to the city, they cannot conclude if the numbers they collect for residents with “no fixed address” are those experiencing homelessness.

Statistics collected by the city say that of the 5879 tickets issued in 2018, 376 tickets were issued to individuals with no fixed address.

“Peace Officers issue tickets based on a variety of factors including fare evasion rates, history of transit offences, severity of offence and as a deterrence to repeating the behaviour,” said Coleman.

Coleman noted that in 2019, fare evasion fines reduced by 5.2% compared to 2018, as well as fare evasion fines issued for N.F.A having reduced by 5.8% compared to 2018.

“It is important to note that the number of fare fines issued and fare fines issued for no fixed address are trending downward into the completion of 2019. This is due to the educational and diversional approaches taken by Peace Officers to assist our citizens experiencing homelessness,” said Coleman. “For those experiencing homelessness, there are a variety of avenues that the Transit Peace Officers use to assist them.”

“That can include connecting or transporting them to social agencies and shelters, or for medical aid. For low-income citizens, officers will only issue a ticket as a last resort after all other educational and support options have been exhausted.”

According to the city, all peace officers, including Transit Peace officers, go through training that includes Indigenous Awareness Training, Mental Health First Aid, Mental Health Awareness and De-escalation and Understanding Vulnerability Interacting with Homeless.

“We will continue to look at what the right approaches are other than tickets and warnings. What that looks like will depend on individual situations, but it could be ensuring those who are experiencing homelessness, for example, have access to services they need,” said the city.

Some of the recommendations made by Student Legal Services of Edmonton in the report include that Edmonton City Council should repeal the prohibition of loitering on transit property and in transit vehicles, as well as reduce fine amounts that “disproportionately affect people with no fixed address,” and that the city should “provide more effective, transparent, and regular oversight regarding the effect that Transit Peace Officers have on Edmontonians living in homelessness.”