Five Ways to Improve Transit Passenger Security

Although not the most important issue, passenger security - lack of - is one reason why more people do not take advantage of public transit, especially women, and especially at night. How can transit agencies improve passenger security, especially in an era when declining funding means that night service is continually being cutback?

Recently there have been on average 12,726 crimes reported annually to the National Transit Database on all of the United States's transit systems, out of a total of around 10 billion annual passengers. Of course, many crimes that occur on transit are not reported to anybody, and this does not take into account crimes that may occur on transit passengers on the way to or from the bus stop. But overall the chance that anyone will be a victim of crime on transit - especially violent crime - is very small. Unfortunately, it is perceived safety rather than actual safety that is the barrier to riding.  Harvey Molotch also has some good ideas on how to improve transit passenger security.

Install Security Cameras on Transit Vehicles and Stations

An interior of a Melbourne, Australia tram. All trams operate on the honor system; if you need to buy a ticket, visit a vendor or the full size ticket vending machine in the back of the vehicle. Note the security camera. Christopher MacKechnie

Although no hard data exists at this point, anecdotal information (and logic) suggests that the installation of security cameras on board transit vehicles and at stations has had a dramatic effect on visible crime, especially graffiti. Followers of the Broken Windows theory of crime will no doubt understand that reducing crime such as graffiti also reduces more serious crimes by removing a visual clue that seems to make committing a crime seem O.K. Installing security cameras also increases operator safety as well .

Improve Lighting at Stops and Stations

The new breed of Vancouver shelter at night. These shelters are very brightly lit with both the advertisement and the stop location lit up. Christopher MacKechnie

One of the best ways to improve the perception of safety and transit stops and stations is to improve lighting. While most new rail stations have excellent lighting, older stations and especially bus stops are often dimly lit, uninviting places at night. If connecting to the electrical grid is not possible, then transit agencies can utilize many varieties of solar power lighting to light both transit shelters or just the area around the bus stop itself. Proper lighting at bus stops does more than promote safety, it shows your system in its best possible light .

Inititate a Request Stop Program

Some agencies have a request stop program, where after 9 PM or some similar time in the evening bus drivers are authorized to let passengers, particularly single women, off at any safe location rather than only at bus stops. This program can significantly cut the amount of distance passengers must walk from the bus stop to their destination. In a further safety-enhancement move, often in these programs only the person requesting the non-standard stop is allowed to exit.

Make Real Time Schedule Information Available on Phones

One of the barriers to the utilization of transit after dark is the uncertain amount of wait time at the stop. Due to the usual low frequency of bus routes in the evening, this uncertainty is valid: few people desire to wait in the dark for a long period of time for a bus, especially in a neighborhood that is not so great. The deployment of real-time schedule information will allow passengers to safely wait in a populated area such as a bar or a coffee house until only a couple of minutes before the bus or train is scheduled to leave a nearby stop. Participating in Google Transit is a good first step in this regard .

Employ CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) Principles

One of the most important methods to improve safety at a given location is to design it in a way that maximized user safety. A program called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) aims to do just that. At its' base, CPTED is based on the principle of defensible space. Defensible space consists of two parts: first, it must allow people to see and be seen continuously; in other words, hiding spaces, caused by things such as trees and sharp corners, must be avoided. Second, defensible space requires that people report crime when it occurs. In other words, defensible space increases safety both by allowing criminals to be observed at all times and by installing a sense of ownership in the people who frequent the space.

How can transit agencies and other groups promote safety through the creation of defensible space? By creating both elements of natural surveillance and natural access control. In natural surveillance, public areas are designed in such ways that allow users of the area to be observed. For example, an access path to a light rail station can be bordered by a chain-link fence rather than a concrete wall. Even better, why not located some kind of retail outlet along the path? In addition to creating the feeling that people are around, a retail outlet would serve the ridership well by providing a place to purchase refreshments while waiting for the next bus or train.

Natural access control promotes defensible space by portraying the area as distinct from the normal public space. In it, visitors are encouraged - or required - to enter the area via one of very few entrances. Most rail and bus stations achieve this objective; however, few bus stops have natural access control or even the ability to enact it. It is possible that shelters, by providing some kind of segregated space, could be viewed as a safer place to wait for a bus than a regular bus stop, but I have not seen any research to support this hypothesis.