I saw three overdoses on one CTrain ride. How about you?

He’s going to overdose. I just know it. 

The man was leaning against the glass inside the bus shelter just outside the Marlborough CTrain station in broad daylight — 2 p.m. on a recent weekday. I saw him unwrap something in tinfoil and smoke from a straight glass pipe.

Scraggly black hair, a blue T-shirt, pants falling off.

Sure enough, within 30 seconds, his head rolled forward. His whole body slumped and he slid down the glass into a crouch.

His buddy shouts and runs back. Or I think it’s his buddy; the guy was with him in the shelter just moments before he started to smoke. He dragged him outside and started pounding on his chest.

What the heck? That’s not going to help.

“Does somebody have naloxone?” 

I’m shouting. My heart races. Do other Calgary Transit users deal with this every day?

Maybe. Police told council last week that crime and disorder on the LRT system is trending up, and we hear stories constantly on social media. Transit ridership is still down, and many people say this is why. 

To find out what’s going on, I’m spending the day at three of the five most dangerous stations in Calgary.

Around me, a dozen people look on.

A pair of security guards deliver a life-saving dose of Narcan to a man having an overdose at a bus stop outside of the Marlborough LRT station last Wednesday. (CBC)

A mother pushing her toddler in a stroller calls 911. Finally, a woman in a security uniform runs up, puts on gloves and pumps the spray, Narcan, up his nose.

Crisis averted, for now. Paramedics arrive, the man gets up and stumbles off. But within minutes, the security officer is off running again, back across the pedestrian bridge to yet another overdose on the other side.

Nicolas Kimmel watched the chaos with me. Like many other transit customers I spoke with that day, this has become a normal occurrence for him. 

“It’s frustrating and it makes me feel, unfortunately, a lot less sympathetic to people that use,” he said. “I feel bad saying that, but it really makes you numb to this sort of thing.”

I spent the day on CTrains and at stations because we want to get to the bottom of this. What is happening on Calgary Transit, how is it affecting the way people use trains and buses, and what solutions would transit riders like the City of Calgary to look at?

I spoke with dozens of people on the train and waiting for buses. They talked about violence, trying to avoid the train, and seeing it become basically an “unsupervised consumption site.” Most really appreciated what security is present. 

Their insight will help shape the research that comes next, and yours can, too. We want to hear from as many people as possible on this. 

Share your experience, add your questions and follow along with this project by entering your phone number in the box below. It’s confidential and you can unsubscribe any time.

Last week, police told city council that crime dropped at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it started growing again in the fourth quarter of 2021. Crime, the severity of crime and reports of crime at train stations are up. 

So far this year, the crime rate has been 47 per cent higher than the three-year average, from 287 crime occurrences to 422.

Police say people started using drugs at LRT stations during the pandemic because if they overdosed, it might be spotted on monitored security cameras. Now it’s a routine that has become entrenched.

The five worst stations by emergency calls this year, to the end of April: Marlborough (382), Chinook (296), Westbrook (270), Sunalta (214) and Rundle (207).

I started at Chinook in the morning.

It was busy. It was mostly commuters with just a couple of people loitering around 9 a.m. Outside the station, a police officer and bylaw officer conferred in their vehicles before walking the length of the platform once, looking into the cars of a train passing through, before returning to their vehicle.

On the platform, a group of three men stood around, speaking loudly. One waved a foot-long metal pipe around — “I dare anyone to f–k with me,” he told his friends, who laughed.

Regular transit users say they don’t feel safe when they see incidents like this.

“It’s kind of scary, mostly because of all the drugs and everything that’s going on. They sit on the train frequently doing [drugs], even in front of little kids. I don’t feel safe, so I’m pretty sure all the families don’t feel safe either,” says Ty Rollingmud, who was waiting for the train at Chinook after walking his friend to work. He relies on Calgary Transit to get almost everywhere.

Ty Rollingmud uses Calgary Transit nearly every day and says drug use has become so bad on trains and at stations that he is often afraid to get on the train. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

“There have been quite a few times I’ve gone to check on a person I thought was in distress. (Then I) find out that they were just doing drugs in the shelter. And I’m all for helping people, but unfortunately it makes me not want to help out.”

“I’m sticking to myself a lot more these days.”

The train itself was quiet. Most people seem to keep to themselves, headphones in, eyes trained on phones or books.

At Sunalta, the station was almost empty — except for a man sleeping in the lobby, tinfoil, a pipe and garbage littered around him.

Marlborough was the craziest station that day: obvious drug use on the platform, those two overdoses and visits by EMS, police and fire crews.

Finally, I caught a train back to Chinook — but things looked a little different. By now it was late afternoon. All three of the enclosed glass shelters were occupied. Two to four people in each platform shelter were using drugs. The shelter by the bus loop was packed full.

One of the women glared at me. I think she thought I was staring at her. I gestured to her neighbour. He was sliding out of his chair onto the floor, lighter and glass pipe in hand.

At the Chinook LRT station, several people in the bus shelter help a man during an apparent drug overdose on June 8. The man survived. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

Three overdoses in one day for me. In this case, the woman saved him. She fished the plastic Narcan spray out of her bag and shoved it up his nose with help from a second man.

I left when he snorted — proof of life.

Later that night, a colleague joined me to head back out. Many people say it’s worse at night. 

This time we were lucky. The stations were emptier than expected. At one point, three out of the only four people on the Chinook platform were doing drugs or were obviously under the influence.

What’s the solution? How can Calgary get this under control? What will happen in the city if it doesn’t?

These are big questions I hope you’ll help us answer.

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