ATLANTA - Atlanta's streetcar operators say a large number of homeless people riding in the cars for hours are causing safety concerns while they’re on duty.
Atlanta city officials and the downtown business community have struggled for years with how to handle the homeless population. Now the people who are the face of the city's $100 million streetcar system are telling city hall they need a clear understanding of who will help them when there's trouble.
“They want to feel safe when they're operating the trains for the citizens,” PACE Union local president Gina Pagnotta told Channel 2’s Richard Belcher.
Pagnotta says she has spoken to seven of the men and women who operate the sleek, $4 million dollar streetcars, and they're all unhappy about what they call career riders.
“On the train all day long and have nowhere to go and have nothing to do and they'll ride until someone asks them to leave,” she said.
Two Channel 2 Action News employees rode the cars two nights this week. Finding people who appeared to be asleep wasn't hard. One man hit up our photographer for money but wasn't threatening.
Belcher asked several people on board the cars what they see firsthand.
“I have ridden about twice around, and then I get off, but they don't bother you unless you go to sleep or something like that,” one man said.
Another woman described seeing alcoholics get on the car and pass out.
It's a free ride until January, so it's warm in winter, cool in summer and dry when it rains.
Pagnotta says streetcar management has told drivers how to handle sleepers.
“They're to get up and tap on the seat to arouse them. The problem is there's been an incident or two where the operators have tried that and they got a little bit, and they got a little bit rough with the operators,” Pagnotta said.
She says the operators have no clear view of what's going on behind them while they're in the cab up front and no clear understanding of who'll come if they feel threatened.
“Their concern is about the safety of themselves,” she said.
But Pagnotta says there are other issues that extend beyond safety.
“The operators have complained about it being such a stench on the train that it has overwhelmed them to the point where one of the operators got sick because of the smell,” she said.
Reports show operators have found things like condoms on the floor of the cars.
Pagnotta said the interim director of the streetcar refused to meet with her members.
Belcher emailed the mayor's office and received the following response:
"The safety and security of our passengers and staff remain the Atlanta Streetcar's highest priorities. APD officers are always near by the Streetcar route and ready to respond. The Downtown Ambassador team rides the Streetcar routinely to provide additional support.
"As the City of Atlanta prepares to introduce fare service for the Streetcar starting January 1, 2016, we will also work to educate passengers and stakeholders of the need to follow a code of conduct and demonstrate respect for fellow riders, drivers and staff.
"The Streetcar management team is always eager to hear feedback about passenger and staff experiences, and how can we improve to better serve all our stakeholders. We invite you to contact us at email@example.com."