July 29--SANTA CRUZ -- A statewide bill that appears headed for passage would allow private security guards and other transit employees to issue tickets for bad behavior around Santa Cruz County transit stops and stations.
Originally written specifically for Santa Cruz Metro, Sen. Bill Monning's bill has since been expanded to cover all local transit systems in California. It cleared the state Senate without dissent and awaits action in the Assembly before going to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.
"It allows us to do some citations for infractions," said Alex Clifford, Metro general manager and chief executive officer. "Police departments in general these days are working a lot of calls, and sometimes infractions can be considered much, much lower priority calls, and sometimes it can take much longer for police officers to respond."
Those low-level crimes could include loitering, urinating in transit stations and unruly behavior. Clifford said Metro's Board of Directors likely would adopt a conduct policy that largely mirrors laws already on the books in local cities before issuing any tickets.
Santa Cruz's Pacific Station can be a source of complaints for riders, with many of the problems seen in other parts of downtown Santa Cruz also found there. Planners are working on a proposed rebuild of the station, with the hope that the project helps to revitalize the lower Pacific Avenue area.
Clifford stressed that the proposed bill is about addressing behavior and not targeting individuals such as homeless persons, saying security staff would be trained to recognize and assist people with certain issues.
Crime on transit systems is not unique to Santa Cruz, with many larger agencies, such as BART, fielding their own police departments. Others contract for services with local agencies.
Santa Cruz Metro, however, is a smaller agency that relies on local police departments for enforcement. Clifford said customer surveys have identified safety as an area of concern, and he wants to make sure riders feel comfortable on the bus.
"This is just a tool in tool bag to make sure that perception is a positive one," Clifford said.
The bill adds two crimes for unruly mass transit riders: Giving false information to drivers is specifically disallowed, and failing to comply with bicycle rules also can earn you a ticket.
Bus drivers specifically are exempted from the law and would not be tasked with ticket-writing.
Eduardo Montesino, a member of the Watsonville City Council, Metro employee and member of United Transportation Union Local 23, said the union supports the bill because it would help clean up poor behavior at Metro stations. Drivers were not included because they wanted to continue to be a friendly face to passengers.
"We wanted to make sure that we're not the police," Montesino said.
Copyright 2014 - Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.