Among the discussions surrounding the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement is a big question of which high-capacity transit option will be chosen.
With that question comes a myriad of others, though, such as what transit security would look like in Vancouver if TriMet extended its light rail system here.
TriMet, for example, has a Transit Police Division. Clark County’s C-Tran, meanwhile, has security officers and a dispatch center to call for emergency services, if needed.
Bus rapid transit and light rail are both being considered for transit options on the bridge. C-Tran has operated its bus rapid transit system, The Vine, since 2017, while the first MAX light rail line was opened by TriMet in 1986.
The last bridge replacement effort, the Columbia River Crossing, considered both options before settling on a light rail extension, drawing the ire of light rail opponents on the north side of the river.
At an Interstate Bridge Replacement Program steering committee meeting in March, program staff revealed their initial findings for transit. The findings showed that light rail improved access to jobs at a greater degree than bus rapid transit on its own. The staff also found that while light rail was most expensive to build, it was cheaper to operate per rider than bus rapid transit.
So, TriMet extending light rail into Vancouver is a very real possibility. If it did, would TriMet’s police have authority here?
“With the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program still in the early planning and community engagement phase, we can’t speculate at the moment on how light rail would operate in Vancouver,” said Tyler Graf, spokesperson for TriMet. “It’s one of several transit options being explored right now, so it’s too early to say exactly how it would work.”
The city of Vancouver did not provide comment regarding local law enforcement and light rail.
Safety and security protocols will be part of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program’s discussions and incorporated into the design, construction, testing and operations phases, according to the program administrator.
“Given the multimodal design of the replacement bridge and program corridor, we anticipate a coordinated design, construction, testing, monitoring, and response plan to be developed and endorsed by safety and security experts across agencies in both states, including (Washington State Department of Transportation) and (Oregon Department of Transportation), law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency management divisions and the (Interstate Bridge Replacement) program design and construction teams,” said Greg Johnson, administrator for the program. “We anticipate that transit law enforcement protocols will be addressed and formalized as part of this comprehensive approach.”
Stretching across multiple counties and cities, the MAX operates across numerous police jurisdictions already. The way it operates elsewhere in the system may provide some insight into how it could look if TriMet’s operations came into Clark County.
According to TriMet, the agency approaches its security in numerous ways, combining staff, police and contract security.
“Law enforcement agencies in the jurisdictions we serve respond to calls on the TriMet system, just as they do throughout their communities,” Graf said.
But TriMet also has a Transit Police Division, a community-based policing effort, which is under the command of the Multnomah County, Ore., Sheriff’s Office. The task force has officers assigned from the sheriff’s offices in Multnomah and Clackamas counties, and Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro and Port of Portland police departments.
These officers patrol the transit system, TriMet said, responding to incidents, investigating crime reports and helping riders.
The agency also contracts with security officers who are stationed at specific places and ride throughout the system. Customer safety officers and customer safety supervisors are tasked with helping riders, as well, and making sure they follow the rules for riding. TriMet recently added a safety response team to find services for people in need of shelter, mental health services and addiction services. There’s also an on-street customer service team reporting issues that come up.
With that multifaceted approach, what is crime like on the MAX these days? A 2017 study showed that the majority of crime in the TriMet transit system occurred on light rail. TriMet no longer tracks this information, however, and crime statistics are now tracked by each separate jurisdiction.
“Rather than only focusing on reported crimes, TriMet takes a holistic approach to what is happening on the system,” Graf said. “In addition to crimes, we monitor information from employees, our security partners and our riders.
“The vast majority of the concerns we hear from riders and our front-line staff are about nuisance issues,” he added. “The challenges faced in the broader community are challenges we must address on transit, as well.”