Policies: Safety on public transport

For road users, improving safety means reducing danger and trauma resulting from the presence of large numbers of high-speed vehicles, driven by similarly large numbers of people whose psychological condition varies widely. For public transport users, on the other hand, the principal safety problem has to be seen as one of personal safety, that of reducing the threat posed, particularly to women, by malicious strangers on public transport vehicles, on station platforms and on the way to or from one’s stop.

The PTUA believes that preventative solutions to the problem of personal safety on public transport will be more effective, cheaper, and of greater community benefit than a campaign focussing on convictions and penalties. Preventative solutions include:

  • continuous staff presence on the system;
  • increasing patronage, especially in off-peak time including evenings; and
  • development of activities on and around public transport facilities.

Danger: perception or reality?

The safety problem is not simply one of public perception. Public transport users, particularly women travelling alone, frequently report that they do not use the system in certain instances (such as after dark, or to certain stations) because of safety concerns. It may be inferred that people have formed these opinions from personal experience as public transport users.

In 2000/01, 5% of assaults and 10% of robberies took place on public transport, when the average citizen spends only about 1% of their time on public transport. In recent years, drug use on the system has also become a problem, with the obvious hazard of discarded syringes.

The problem of safety on public transport is real, and requires real solutions. People need to know and feel that the system is safe, not just statistically but actually.

Issues for families

Many parents are reluctant to let their children travel alone, either on foot, or by bicycle or public transport, as they perceive the roads and public transport system as too unsafe. This means parents feel obliged to drive their children to school, sports and other activities, where fifty years ago the children would have – in relative safety – walked, cycled or taken public transport, often not least because there was no car available!

Ironically, one of the major factors in making roads unsafe for school children, and compelling their parents to drive them to school, is the presence of all the other parents delivering children to school. As well as instilling car culture into children, this compounds the car dependency by increasing road use and decreasing public transport use even more.

The provision of safe, secure and child-friendly walking environments is therefore vital to encouraging a lifelong habit of public transport use. Measures that promote ‘safety in numbers’ by increasing pedestrian activity will also encourage walking, cycling and public transport use within families.

Staff on the system

Isolated railway stations have been ranked on surveys as one of the three most feared locations for travellers. The continued absence of staff from the public transport system can be expected to drive passengers away because of such concerns. On the other hand, improvements in staff presence will almost certainly increase patronage and revenue, and decrease fare evasion.

The most frequent suggestion for improving public transport safety is for moving staff on vehicles – not jumping from vehicle to vehicle but continuously present on the one vehicle, like tram conductors. Women who are surveyed particularly mention the need for a stronger staff presence in order to feel secure at stations and on vehicles.

The PTUA has always viewed the elimination of front-line staff as a threat to the personal safety of travellers. Automated ticketing should be used in conjunction with staff on the system, and not as an alternative to staffing, as originally recommended by the Met Ticketing Task Force in 1991. Staff already employed to combat fare evasion should be redeployed as tram conductors and station staff, improving customer service and safety, as well as more effectively combating fare evasion, particularly on trams.

Surveillance on the system

In redefining the staff role the PTUA advocates crime prevention through effective surveillance and communication systems in preference to punitive measures. Under this system the police would provide prompt law enforcement backup to the staff on vehicles and at stations, but would not be employed in large numbers as a primary deterrent, as in many cases there are more pressing demands on police resources.

A permanent police presence should be considered at the relative handful of stations that account for the majority of crime on the system. A roving police presence on vehicles may also be considered, particularly after dark and at the suburban ends of train lines. Otherwise, where supplementary staff (such as Authorised Officers or Protective Service Officers) are employed with a specific security or enforcement function, they must receive appropriate police training and assessment, and if armed, must receive weapons training equivalent to that of sworn police.

People on the system

The PTUA supports the view that the key to improving perceived and actual safety on public transport is increased patronage levels. Public transport should attract non-captive users, particularly off-peak and at night, to ensure that a broad cross section of the community are travelling together and providing passive reassurance to each other. The introduction of incentives for wider use would be an important part of any strategy to improve public transport safety.

Service connections and frequencies should be improved so that waiting times are reduced. This would remove a major source of vulnerability and also increase patronage through the provision of a more attractive service.

The development of activity areas, such as convenience stores, coffee shops and restaurants, around public transport facilities will also help to make these facilities less isolated during off-peak periods.

Reviewed: September 2011