We – huff…wheeze – barely catch up with Metrolinx’s bike patrol unit as they continue to cover serious GO Transit ground into the fall

How far will this specialized bicycle unit go to safeguard our customers? About the distance of pedalling from Toronto to San Jose, Calif..

This is not a job for the weak-kneed.

With every shift – they are constantly flipping through 11 gears – Transit Safety Sgt. Travis Gillespie, and fellow members of Metrolinx’ bicycle patrol unit, cover a lot of ground watching over Metrolinx’s territory.

As they approach the final weeks of their riding season, the unit is an effective but understated band of law enforcement who safeguard transit riders and the expansive system those customers count on.

A team member waves at a passing GO train.

The Bike Patrol Unit covers a lot of ground and places that couldn’t otherwise be accessed with cruisers. (Photo by Jay Kangas.)

Their daily beat is to the revolution of the tires on their Specialized Cross Trail Elite and Sport Disk bikes – allowing officers to patrol a busy event at the Exhibition and then immediately respond to reports of a trespasser at Mimico.

It’s all about balance.

The unit – formed in 2014 – is designed not only for quick response times, but the ability to target areas that are not easily accessible by a patrol vehicle. They’re also quiet and have a lower profile, which adds an element of stealth.

A transit officer is seen searching a grassy area.

A team member searches an area, thick with overgrowth, along a Toronto rail corridor. (Photo by Jay Kangas)

In addition, the unit is breaking down barriers, especially when it comes to customers interacting with Transit Safety officers.

“The bicycles are an excellent conversational piece, and we find our passengers have a higher tendency to break the ice and strike up a conversation when they see an officer riding a bike,” says Transit Safety Staff Sgt. Jay Kangas, who oversees the program.

“Interacting with the public is a critical component of our job, so anything that promotes communication is welcomed.”

Their job also comes with unique challenges. The biggest one is not just confronting potential criminals – always a risk for any special constable. It’s also facing, as every Canadian knows, the changing elements around Toronto.

Three members of the team ride through a wooded area.

Even in cold and damp weather, the squad makes their patrols. (Photo by Jay Kangas)

“Even a hydrated, sun screened, and physically fit officer can be slowed down by intense heat,” Kangas explains.

“The same can be said for the unique challenges brought on by heavy rain.”

But clear skies or not, the bicycle patrol unit pushes forward. How far?

Kangas says it’s not uncommon for officers to ride 30 to 40 km. each day.

While they’re still pedalling on the last kilometres of 2019, last year the combined unit logged a total of 4,700 km. That’s the equivalent of cycling from Toronto to San Jose, Calif.

They spent a total of 28,500 minutes cycling- almost 20 days of pedalling.

Officers pose in front of GO trains.

When the officers aren’t on duty, they’re still pedalling – they participated in the York Regional Police-led Ride 4 Styles, raising money for charity, and the Ride to Remember – a 700 km bike ride from Aylmer to Ottawa.

In a given year – based on those 2018 figures – they will resolve more than 80 safety hazards, lay 260 provincial charges and conduct about 680 patrols of the rail corridors.

They’re impressive stats for a team who not only protect customers, but also the environment. Their exhaust is limited to each exhale of fit lungs.

”We advocate for cycling as an excellent mode of transportation and we’re always promoting bike safety every chance we get, we have an excellent story to tell anyone willing to listen,” Kangas explains.

As transit customers quicken their pace to quickly get inside GO vehicles, escaping the early morning chill of fall, the unit will keep up their shifts until approaching winter shuts them down for another season.

For now, there are still kilometres of rail corridors to watch over, two wheels at a time.

Because while the long arm of the law often gets the attention – strong legs are what you really need for these patrols.

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson, media relations and issues specialist.