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First, it was violent purse-snatchings near east Vancouver SkyTrain stations, followed by two robberies at knifepoint - and warnings from police and transit officials that passengers shouldn't walk alone.

And when a couple were convicted last month of murdering 16-year-old Matthew Martins by kicking him, throwing him against a glass wall and cutting his throat at the foot of the escalator in the Surrey SkyTrain station, many riders wondered: Just how safe is our SkyTrain?

"It's enough to make you want to drive to work," SkyTrain rider Lyle Drummond, 32, said as he left the 29th Avenue station, near where one brutal purse-snatching put a 56-year-old woman in hospital in mid-April.

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While TransLink officials are quick to point out that most incidents don't happen on SkyTrain property, the consensus from planning experts and police is that the stations are catalysts for crime by drawing people, which draws the criminals that prey on them.

Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix, whose riding encompasses the east Vancouver stations, started a petition this week to demand lights be installed in and around transit stations, and that the newly armed Greater Vancouver Transit Police step up patrols by one-third.

After Matthew Martins was murdered two years ago, TransLink's special constables were given guns and policing authority throughout the province to stop violent crimes. But they're not working hard enough, Mr. Dix said.

"The whole idea of these police was to go off TransLink property and pursue and protect citizens," he said. "So when TransLink says, 'these are outside our property, and not our problem,' well, that's not what they said when they asked for these powers."

Video camera surveillance needs to be upgraded, and the transit police need to stop checking fares and start fighting crime, he said. "The answer is to make a small investment to ensure a greater security presence," he said.

SkyTrain president Doug Kelsey said stations - armed with regular patrols, video surveillance, and emergency buttons - are safe. Transit police have greater powers than regular police because they check fares, he said; a lack of fare can be used as a cause to search a suspicious person.

Video surveillance is being upgraded from a grainy display that saves videos only for two hours to a high-quality digital system that saves videos for seven days, he added. "People have to take care when they walk to and from the system," he said.

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A Globe and Mail survey of dangers to passengers, measured by crimes against people per million riders, found that the Lower Mainland is among the safest places to take transit.

Comparing self-reported data from Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, Calgary Transit reported the safest rate, at 1.5 crimes against a person per million riders. Vancouver's TransLink came second, at 2.6, followed by Toronto at 2.9. Edmonton topped the list at 4.8 crimes against a person per million riders.

Statistics like that show that riding the SkyTrain itself is safe, said Chris Taulu, the director of the Collingwood Community Policing Centre. "But all of the security on the platform isn't going to help the person who gets mugged two blocks from the station," she said.

Ms. Taulu's jurisdiction includes the Joyce SkyTrain Station and 29th Avenue, where several of the most recent stabbings have occurred. In the past month, the community has mobilized, she said, and persuaded the SkyTrain service to cut down a section of bushes to improve visibility, upgrade a path to a sidewalk and promise to fix several lights.

The hard line against graffiti and vandalism is reminiscent of New York's broken-windows theory - that fixing problems when they are small stops them from growing. But Ms. Taulu says there's a softer edge to it as well that makes communities feel safer, even if the crime rate remains the same.

"People have to learn to talk to each other," she said. Movie nights, mural projects and adopt-a-block programs have drawn people to the streets where they become involved in their neighbourhood, she said. After a month of action, 911 calls have dropped from 10 calls a week to nearly zero, she said.

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Planners have to consider the neighbourhood around a station and whether the station is a safe space as well, said Larry Frank, who holds the Bombardier Chair in Regional Planning at UBC.

SkyTrain stations in vibrant neighbourhoods with active streets, such as Broadway and Commercial, tend to see lower levels of violent crimes, because of a natural surveillance effect from more people in the neighbourhood. The 29th Avenue Station is nestled among low-density houses on empty streets, he said, which makes passengers there more at risk.

"Where there are more people, there's more surveillance, which makes someone a lot less likely to commit a crime," he said.

TransLink's manager of project planning, Tamim Raad, said that the regional planner is using $3-million of federal anti-terrorism funding to build safer, more livable "transit villages" in four Lower Mainland Stations: Edmonds, Metrotown, Surrey Central, and Broadway and Commercial.

A 400-metre zone around each station would be high density, so people can live there without using a car, he said.

"We're creating a safe space, and a natural positive activity that wards off the criminal," he said. "And we're hoping to do it eventually with every station in the region."

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