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'You are not a customer if you do not pay': Valley Metro cited for safety concerns and increase in loitering

The Valley Metro system is under fire by its customers, employees and the Phoenix City Council. 

The light rail, which transports an average of 38,532 passengers every weekday, according to Valley Metro, has seen a number of incidents occurring on Valley Metro property and in the trains. 

According to a status report composed by Valley Metro, 575,105 incidents have occurred on the light rail between January and July. Of those incidents, over 100 were assaults on passengers, over 20 were assaults on security. Over 400 incidents ended in citations being issued, and a majority resulted in the removal of a rider.

According to the report, the current fare inspection rate is 12.3% of riders with around 87.7% of riders having a valid fare. The goal for Valley Metro is 95%.

“We can’t be chasing away our customers… you are not a customer if you do not pay,” said Phoenix City Councilman Jim Waring, who brought the issue to the City Council. He said there was an increase in community members loitering in fare zones and on the cars.

In an effort to reduce incidents, Valley Metro contracts Allied Universal Security (AUS), who supplies private security officers to patrol the light rail. But their powers and time are both limited. Currently only 75% of shifts are filled, leaving a considerable amount of time unstaffed. 

“You will encounter a guard on about a third of trains,” Said Valley Metro CEO Jessica Mefford-Miller. “Our goal is to have coverage of 50%.” 

Security officers have the power to issue citations and trespassing to riders without fare only if they present an ID. But they are powerless if they try to enforce rules to those who refuse to show their ID. The report claims that police support is often required in these incidents. 

According to the report, 12 new officers have started academy with more on the way. “There will never be a point where we stop training and recruiting guards,” Mefford-Miller said. “Security is a top of mind issue for customers and employees and we are responding.”

Arizona State University student Rayna Maggelet has experienced her own concerning incident at a light rail station. “While one man was sleeping, another man attempted to rob him and when he woke up they began fist fighting.” 

Improving the security and safety of the light rail remains one of the Phoenix City Public Safety and Justice Subcommittee’s top priorities.

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