The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) launched a new campaign to combat harassment and provide a safer environment for its estimated 1.7 million weekday rides.
“The purpose is to promote a dialogue among our commuters,” said CTA Senior Media Representative Catherine Hosinski. “The goal is to generate awareness and educate people on what to do.”
The CTA often gets a reputation for being less than safe. There were 36 reports of harassment lodged with the CTA in the last year, reported the Chicago Tribune.
The Anti-Harassment Campaign adds to a 2009 campaign of similar focus, said Hosinski.
Harassment, which the CTA defines as unwanted behavior that is “threatening, criminal, or makes you feel uncomfortable” is a large concern for passengers. However, the CTA has implemented safety measures to protect riders, placing a large portion of responsibility in the hands of passengers and CTA operators.
The CTA has put an increased focus on customer awareness of fellow passengers being intimidated or put in uncomfortable situations.
The new slogan, “If it’s unwanted, it’s harassment,” calls for passengers to respect one another and report incidents, whether they are the victim or a witness.
The CTA has previously employed multiple safety campaigns encouraging passenger awareness, including the familiar “If you see something, say something” slogan, which urges riders to contact a CTA employee or call 911 if they see someone or something suspicious or unusual.
Passengers are encouraged to contact 911 or use call buttons to contact the bus or train operator, who then has their own safety protocol.
In cases on the El, rail operators are trained to first contact the CTA’s control center (120 N. Racine Ave.) in emergency situations, according to CTA representative Jeff Tolman. The 24/7 control center monitors the rail and bus routes and is the medium through which emergency teams, such as the police, are contacted when trouble occurs on the CTA, according to Tolman. The control center gives instructions to the operator after calling 911.
Before CTA operators can assist with incidents, they must be notified of suspicious activity. The CTA stresses the importance of passengers speaking up when they see potential danger.
“[The CTA continues] to regularly emphasize to both employees and customers that vigilance and awareness of surroundings is an important part of keeping our system safe,” said Tolman.
Since 2011, the CTA has installed more than 23,000 security cameras on CTA trains, buses and stations, according to Tolman. CTA cameras have been used to help police investigate and apprehend nearly 825 suspected wrong-doers.
During recent years, crime reports on the CTA have dropped, though there isn’t a definite connection between these safety measures and crime rates. Theft rates were down 26 percent in 2014 compared to 2013, and serious crime (including murder, serious assaults and robbery) was down 31 percent in April 2015 compared to April 2014, reported the Chicago Tribune.
Safety measures and statistics do not have everyone convinced on the CTA’s safety.
“I feel kind of safe when it’s the middle of the day, but not really safe at night,” said 18-year-old Alecia Reynolds, an undeclared first-year student.
Other students, such as 18-year-old Olga Kimszal, feels it’s necessary to take precautions.
“I always carry pepper spray with me and I make sure to sit closer to the front,” said Kimszal, a sophomore marketing major. “I make sure there are multiple people in the cars I go in.”
Hosinski, however, said she hopes the new campaign will help the CTA identify patterns of harassment and make traveling safer for passengers.
“The CTA takes harassment very seriously,” said Hosinski. “One incident is one too many.”