Public Transit Safety

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Most Americans have a perception that taking transit is unsafe compared to private means of transportation (Goodwill Et. al, 2012). Majority of Americans view transit as being characterized by accidents and high crime rates. However, statistics have shown that public transit is almost ten times safer than self-driving (Litman, 2018). Transit is also much safer compared to other modes of transportation.

It has been observed that regional per capita traffic causalities decrease as transit ridership increases in the United States (Litman, 2018). Statistics have also shown that passengers are less likely to be victims of crime when on transit than perceived by the public. Public transit is therefore relatively safe and secure, meaning it has fewer traffic accidents and crimes (Goodwill Et. al, 2012).

Security on transit facilities can further be improved by increasing surveillance on transit facilities using technology and roving law enforcement officers (Litman, 2018). In recent times, public transit services have been further improved by increasing resources and funding in this sector (Goodwill Et. al, 2012). Transit safety has also been uplifted by executing numerous support strategies such as pedestrian and cycling lanes, more effective parking, interconnecting streets and roadway design, as well as smart growth policies (National Research Council, 1996).

These changes although not initially intended as safety strategies have ultimately provided substantial traffic safety benefits. In spite of the relative safety and security associated with transit, many Americans still consider it to be risky. They are hence, hesitant to use it and do not support transit service extensions in their neighborhoods (National Research Council, 1996).


The United States growth and well-being are reliant on the delivery of safe, well-organized, and reliable public transport (National Research Council, 1996). Americans use rapid transit buses and trains daily to get to and from work, school, hospitals, and to visit relatives and friends. Public transport means such as rapid transit buses, light rail transit, or subway are therefore a vital infrastructure, ensuring mobility for both business and social purposes (National Research Council, 1996).

Despite the relative safety, public transport does have its share of crimes against persons and property. These incidents are in most cases accentuated by the media, creating a poor perception of these transit facilities and igniting a sense of fear. In the occurrence of an accident in transit systems, the accident receives great media attention which has a long-lasting impact compared to private automobile cases (National Research Council, 1996).

In the event of a transit crash or transit terrorist attack, the incidence often yields national and international media attention even if there are few or no casualties, while fatal automobile crashes are so common and widespread yet they do not receive such an attention.

For instance, the New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) train derailment in Penn Station, New York, in August 2011, occupied the front pages of newspapers in the country and the news filled the internet although no injuries were reported (Litman, 2018). The incident created a commuting nightmare to a lot of riders. The result of such exaggerated reporting is that people make less use of public transport and opt for more expensive and less safe modes of transport. Another reason why many Americans avoid public transit is their fear of strangers (National Research Council, 1996).

In most instances, transit travel often necessitates passengers to be in the presence of strangers in congested and uncomfortable transit vehicles and stations. Most people fear to be in congested places with strangers while others feel disgusted to be close to a small portion of passengers who may be anti-social, rude or dirty. Therefore, some people feel a sense of powerlessness, discomfort and insecurity while in public transit (National Research Council, 1996).

The United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration (FTA), is the body responsible for transit safety in the country. The body is responsible for coming up with safety policies and standards in the transit sector (National Research Council, 1996). This organization, in conjunction with other agencies, documents, records and analyzes data on crash fatalities and injuries, as well as accidents and crime incidents, by year, agency, mode and transit type whether bus or rail or any other. The FTA analyses both crash risks and crime risks and comes up with policies to prevent and minimize such. One such policy is the National Public Transportation Safety Plan (the United States, 2010).

Crash Risk

Crash risk refers to property damages, injuries and deaths instigated by vehicular or transit crashes (Litman, 2018). When compared with automobile travel, public transit has a relative lower crash rate per unit of travel. Intercity and commuter passengers have about one-20th, while urban rail passengers have about one-30th, and bus passengers have about one-60th of the overall fatality rate per 100 million passenger-miles (Litman, 2018).

Transit travel has less than half the total death rate as that of private automobile travel. Transit systems with low load factors or fewer passengers per transit vehicle-mile have higher crash rates per passenger-mile, but decline as load factors increase (the United States, 2010). Therefore, as public transit travel surges in a neighborhood, casualty rates tend to decline. Transit agencies should be prepared to respond immediately to crash sites so as to evacuate people, offer emergency services to victims and reduce injuries and fatalities to ensure safety (the United States, 2010).

An individual’s risk to crash is influenced by many factors and there is also a lot of ways for motorists to increase their safety (Litman, 2018). Staying sober can help drivers reduce accidents since about 31% of fatal traffic accidents involve an impaired or drunk driver. Observing speed limits can also reduce accidents since about 30% have been observed to be caused by over-speeding (Litman, 2018).

However, some substantial risks are beyond the driver’s control, such as faults by other road users, pedestrians and mechanical failures. Hence, even law-abiding drivers are at greater crash risks compared to transit passengers. In addition factors like roadway design, weather, driver’s health, or mental status can also cause crashes (Litman, 2018). For instance, invisibility due to fog or smoke causes significant crashes during the morning hours.

In order to reduce crashes and increase transit safety, investments need to be made on high-quality transit services which are appropriate, comfortable and inexpensive (the United States, 2010). Favorable walking and cycling conditions through the provision of pedestrian and cyclist lanes.

Lower traffic speeds, more connections to the roadway network as well as high fuel taxes, parking fees and road tolls on private vehicles can increase transit use and improve safety (Litman, 2018). Development density and mix and reduced parking supply or transit-oriented developments can also make public transit more popular compared to private means hence increase road safety.

In addition, police officers and regulatory agencies serve an important role in upholding transportation safety in the country (National Research Council, 1996). Traffic officers focus on improving roadway and transit safety through the enforcement of safe driving, maintaining the required driving speed and deterring careless driving caused by criminal behaviour or drunk drivers (Litman, 2018).

Crime Risk

Transit crimes refer to assaults and thefts against personnel and passengers as well as vandalism, trespassing and fare evasion cases against transit providers (National Research Council, 1996). Transit passengers are likely to face assault, pickpocketing and theft (Litman, 2018). Motorists, on the other hand, are in danger of road rage, carjacking, vehicle assault, vehicle theft and vandalism.

Public transit travel usually experiences lower crime risk due to passive surveillance by employees, fellow passengers and the public at large (Litman, 2018). Pro-transit policies also help to reduce the overall crime. Transit passengers are at a greater risk of being confronted by criminals when walking or waiting in isolated areas. These risks are however not greater than those faced by motorists strolling to and from parking lots (Litman, 2018).

Crime risk can be reduced by interventions such as the installation of public telephones at all transit stations and improvements on lighting at the stations. Individuals can safeguard their personal security by carrying mobile phones to make calls in case of emergencies and by avoiding risky situations and places (the United States, 2010). Partnerships with the private sector to help install well-lit tram and bus shades with telephones throughout the transit areas. Enhancing insecurity mitigation measures on the transit system, such as enhanced transit patrol and police presence (National Research Council, 1996).

The police can also target specific troubled areas and at certain times. This regionalization of the transit patrol comes-in-handy in improving response times during incidences (Litman, 2018). Fitting of both fixed and mobile closed-circuit television cameras, recorders and state-of-the-art surveillance systems at stations and fixed installations on trains and buses. Enhancing security by having guards regularly roving on trains and transit station staff escorting passengers to their vehicles in parking lots (National Research Council, 1996).

In addition, the public perception of crime rates can be changed by bettering the quality of data collected, analyzed, and used as intelligence (Litman, 2018). The agencies can also ensure that the community interests are considered through the formation of a consultative community forum (the United States, 2010). Development of strategies for projects such as cleaning up and beautifying the transit system by removing graffiti, repainting walls and repairing vandalism and also doing away with idlers (National Research Council, 1996). The agencies can also develop concepts to upgrade transit stations to provide s improved customer amenities and service (Litman, 2018).

National Public Transportation Safety Plan

The National Public Transportation Safety Plan is the foundation for FTA’s new Public Safety Transportation Program (Federal Transit Administration, 2017). The National Public Transportation Safety Plan was formulated to direct the national efforts of handling the safety risks within the public transportation systems in the United States (Federal Transit Administration, 2017) (Litman, 2018).

The plan aims at addressing both individual and organizational accidents, as a result from actions or inaction of the responsible party. The safety plan comprises four SMS framework components which include: The Safety Management Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance and Safety Promotion (Federal Transit Administration, 2017). The Safety Management Policy is the basis of a public transportation agency’s safety management system.

The policy clearly commits an agency to the formulation and execution of the organizational structures and resources necessary to continue the safety management processes and functions of the agency (Pennsylvania Public Transport Association, 2015). The safety management policy is further subdivided into sub-components which comprise of Safety Management Policy Statement, Safety Accountabilities and Responsibilities, Integration with Public Safety and Emergency Management SMS Documentation and Records (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).

Safety Management Policy Statement clearly states the essentials upon which a transit agency formulates and operates its SMS (Pennsylvania Public Transport Association, 2015). It also documents the executive management’s obligation to the SMS and places the management of safety at the same level as a transit agency’s topmost business practices (Federal Transit Administration, 2017). Safety Accountabilities and Responsibilities depicts the accountabilities and responsibilities for the performance of the SMS (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).

Integration with Public Safety and Emergency Management certifies incorporation of programs in the SMS. Each transit agency identifies and defines the required coordination with both external establishments and internal departments for dealing with emergencies. This helps in disaster preparedness in unforeseen incidences such as terrorist attacks. It is also essential in the return to normal operations (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).

SMS Documentation and Records comprises of all activities concerned with the documentation of SMS implementation (Pennsylvania Public Transport Association, 2015). The tools required daily in the SMS operation, and the management of requirements and regulation are also in this category (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).

The Safety Risk Management component comprises of the methods, activities, and tools a transit agency requires to ascertain and evaluate hazards and assess safety risks in operations and support activities (Federal Transit Administration, 2017). The component is further divided into sub-components of Safety Hazard Identification, Safety Risk Assessment and Safety Risk Mitigation. Safety Hazard Identification is the first step in this process and involves establishing processes to identify hazards and consequences which can arise from the hazards (Pennsylvania Public Transport Association, 2015).

This process addresses the hazards before they worsen into accidents. Safety Risk Assessment follows safety hazard identification. The transit agency develops processes to assess the safety risks accompanying the identified hazards. Thirdly, Safety Risk Mitigation follows the safety risk assessment. The transit agency identifies any mitigations measures that are necessary to protect the public and transit staff from unsafe conditions (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).

The Safety Assurance component makes sure that mitigation measures are Implemented, and are sufficient in addressing the potential consequences of identified hazards (Federal Transit Administration, 2017). The component is further subdivided to Safety Performance Monitoring, Measurement Management of Change and Continuous Improvement. Safety Performance Monitoring and Measurement produce data and information that senior management requires in order to assess whether implemented safety risk mitigations are appropriate and effective (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).

They also help in evaluating whether an agency’s safety performance is in line with established safety objectives and safety performance targets (Pennsylvania Public Transport Association, 2015). Management of Change identifies when changes introduce new hazards and safety risks into transit operations. Lastly, Continuous Improvement assesses the SMS to ensure that it effectively permits the agency to meet its goals (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).

Safety Promotion offers the executive management’s obligation to safety and nurtures enhanced safety performance by growing safety consciousness through communication and training (Pennsylvania Public Transport Association, 2015). This component is further subdivided into two components, namely, Safety Communication Competencies and Training. Safety Communication is a two-way feedback between employees and management about safety information (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).

Effective safety communication informs employees of safety urgencies and initiatives, ensuring that feedback is given and acted upon as required. Competencies and Training ensure that all employees are trained in accordance with their duties (Pennsylvania Public Transport Association, 2015). Attaining high levels of capability for each staff level increases their work performance and helps the transit agency to achieve its goals (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).


Overall, public transit is a relatively safe mode of transport. It has a lower crash rate and crime rate compared to other modes of travel (the United States, 2010). Transit travel has about a ten times lower the crash casualty rate as the use of private vehicles (Goodwill Et. al, 2012). Transit-oriented development neighborhoods also have about a fifth the per capita traffic casualty rate as that experienced in automobile-oriented areas (Litman, 2018).

Transit crimes are lower compared to motor vehicle crimes which are higher and more costly. Crime risk also decreases as more responsible individuals use transit means and live in transit-oriented societies. The security in transit facilities is further enhanced by surveillance and the presence of guards in the transit facilities (Goodwill Et. al, 2012).

Transit risk fears have been exaggerated by the extreme news coverage of transit crashes and crimes (the United States, 2010). Bias reporting on safety and security risks without putting them into perspective. Transit travel nature requiring passengers to share crowded and stuffy spaces with strangers has also led to the unpopularity of the transit systems. People’s perception of the use of graffiti on transit station walls and the presence of idlers have also led to the belief that the transit facilities are unsafe (Goodwill Et. al, 2012).

The government, through the FTA, have come up with a plan of action to increase safety in the transit sector (the United States, 2010). The plan guides the national efforts of managing the safety risks and safety hazards within the United States public transportation systems. It addresses the mandate of agencies in the transit sector and how their employees should conduct themselves. The plan also dictates how risks and hazards should be mitigated and the actions taken in case they occur (Federal Transit Administration, 2017).


Cite this paper

Public Transit Safety. (2021, May 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/public-transit-safety/

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