PHOENIX — As gas prices are at a record high right now, Valley Metro said more people are turning to buses and light rail to get around.
But some riders and drivers have raised concerns about the safety of public transportation in the City of Phoenix.
Crime data shows, that assaults and drug crime in and around public transportation have risen over the last five years.
Crime rising in and around public transportation
According to city data, crime has risen in and around public transportation in Phoenix since 2016.
The year 2020 was an exception. Some services were disrupted during the pandemic.
The crime reports show aggravated assault and drug offenses drove the rise in overall crime on busses, bus stops, light rail, rail stations and platforms in the City of Phoenix.
Bob Bean, president of ATU Local 1433, which represents bus drivers in the Valley, said he wasn't surprised that city data showed a rise in crime related to public transportation.
It's something, Bean said, bus drivers have been noticing.
"Nobody wants to do this job anymore. And a lot of it's got to do with you don't know whether you're gonna get off that bus alive or in one piece at the end of the night," Bean said.
Aggravated assaults and drug crimes driving the rise
While 2020 showed an overall slight dip in the number of crimes reported related to public transportation, the data shows aggravated assaults continued to rise.
"When COVID hit, that's when we really noticed things starting to really escalate here in Phoenix. And then when the mask mandate came in, that even made it worse. There were fights every day on the bus because the federal mandate said you have to wear a mask if you're on the bus," Bean said.
Cassandra Forsberg was one bus driver who was hurt trying to enforce the mask requirement in 2020.
In 2021, crime on public transportation hit a five-year high.
Earlier this month, Diane Craig was killed after a man strangled her on a bus.
"I think it's between the city and the companies to put something forward to try and curb what's going on out there," Bean said.
'Safety is our priority'
While Valley Metro and the City of Phoenix would not talk with 12 News on camera about safety on public transportation, they directed us back to the Phoenix Police Department.
In a written statement, with parts nearly identical to one released following Craig's death, Valley Metro told 12 News, that safety is a priority.
"From buses to trains and other modes of public transit, safety is our priority. We all share that responsibility across the regional transit system, and cities and contracted transit providers have protocols in place to ensure the safety and security of our transit passengers," part of the statement read.
Stating there are fare inspectors/security on the light rail system. A spokesperson said riders have AlertVM, an app, that allows riders to report rail security concerns.
A spokesperson also said there is the Police Transit Unit that addresses safety on public transportation, and bus drivers are trained to contact a control center during emergencies that can listen into issues happening on the bus.
Bean said though, he'd like to see change for drivers and riders alike.
"The public should be able to ride the bus without having to worry about any of the garbage going on," Bean said.
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