Fare Jumping Is Not a Threat to Public Safety But Some Montreal Metro Security Guards Are

Last week we learned that Montreal’s transit authority, the STM, wants its security guards to have more “police-like powers” (whatever that means) despite recent incidents like the assault on a commuter at Villa Maria metro. The STM claims that this won’t involve arming the officers who patrol the Montreal Metro and STM buses with more than the nightsticks they already, have but it will come with additional training.

The people currently working security for the STM definitely do need to be re-trained, though not in the way I suspect the STM wants to do it. The first lesson in my school, after mandatory classes against racial profiling, would be called something like You’re a Security Guard, Not a Fare Collector!

That’s sadly not the mentality the STM has. You only need to look at the statements STM officials made while pitching the upgrade for their cops to see how they really don’t get what kind of organization they are running.

With countless references to “customers” and “customer experience” you’d think they were at the helm of a for-profit business instead of a public service. Doctors have patients, public transit organizations have commuters or passengers, hell, transit users would even work, but not customers.

The latest PR nightmare for the STM involves a woman who missed the last metro, where she could have paid to ride, because the out-of-town bus she was on arrived late. She couldn’t find any stores that were open to make change, so she boarded a night bus, explained her situation to the driver and asked if she could ride without paying. He said yes.

Two stops later, STM cops gave her a $222 fine and kicked her off the bus in the middle of nowhere with no way to get home. They kicked a woman travelling alone at night off the night bus in the middle of nowhere because she didn’t have the change handy to buy a ticket despite the fact that she had asked permission to ride for free given the circumstances.

How does that make anyone safer? It doesn’t. Actually, it’s the opposite. If the STM “security” (or Rambo ticket takers) hadn’t boarded that particular night bus, one woman’s ride home would have been a helluva lot safer.

Just as Juliano Gray, the victim of the assault at Villa Maria Metro, would have been safer if STM officers had not held him on the ground with his head dangerously close to the tracks. These are two recent incidents where the biggest threat to commuter safety turned out to be those charged, at least officially, with protecting it.

In the immediate aftermath of what happened at Villa, even before Gray came forward, STM spokesperson Philippe Dery was trying to defend the officers’ actions in an email exchange with CTV Montreal and failing miserably. Then, according to CTV he added: “In addition, the person did not have a ticket in his possession and refused to cooperate with our inspectors.”

His Hail Mary defense of brutality caught on video was to tell everyone that the victim probably didn’t pay for a ticket. Not only is it not justification for assault, it’s something that very few care about outside of the STM bubble.

There are real, honest to goodness, problems in the metro and on the bus. Harassment, creepy behaviour and worse. These are issues transit security should deal with. Fare jumping doesn’t even merit a blip on the radar, but it seems to be security threat number one for the STM.

Sure, this public service has a fee, one that most of us pay. While I believe public transit should be free, I know that not everyone is on board with that yet, but at the very least we can get on board with the idea that fare collection should not be the primary concern of those charged with protecting passengers and that we are passengers, not customers.

A safe commute is knowing that the person next to you won’t do you any harm, not that they paid for a ticket or pass. The STM brass needs to realize that fact and instill it in their security guards before trying to give them more power.

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