How Can Transit Agencies Create a “New Transit Safety Narrative”?

Transit Safety ImageThe real risks related to public transit safety are quite low. However, many people still associate public buses and trains with danger, and these perceptions can reduce their likelihood of using transit. Some researchers, including Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, suggest that transit agencies are partially to blame for the public’s stubborn belief that public transportation is unsafe. Today we’re taking a look at how transit agencies can create a new transit safety narrative. We begin with a review of the actual safety of public transit.

Researchers and planners regularly evaluate how to increase usage and improve safety with regard to public transit systems. Efforts to augment transit safety and security often begin with and/or focus on reducing the real or actual risks (crime, crashes, casualties) associated with transit travel. These efforts have largely been successful, as shown by numerous studies. A recent article in the Journal of Public Transportation indicates that public transit has significantly lower crash rates and traffic fatalities per unit of travel as compared with automobile travel. Specifically, traffic fatality rates for public transit passengers range from about 1/20th (intercity and commuter transit) to 1/60th (bus transit) the rates for automobile users.

Similar low rates of real risk have been found with regard to transit crime. FBI statistics from 2012 indicate that only a tiny portion of violent crimes occur on public transit vehicles or properties. In addition, their data shows that automobile property crimes are both more frequent and more costly than transit property crimes.

In short, individuals’ perceptions of public transit risks are often unrelated to their experiences with or knowledge about real risks. Instead, risk perception is influenced by the media coverage of transit-related crashes and crimes, psychological aspects of transit use, and danger-oriented messages from transit authorities themselves.  Herein lies an opportunity for transit agencies to decrease perceived risk and increase ridership by creating a new transit safety narrative.

In his research, Litman suggests that agencies adjust their messaging to emphasize the overall safety of public transit. Here are a few of his ideas that agencies can put to use today:
Emphasize overall safety first. When speaking of transit crashes, begin by underlining how the risk of a transit crash is very low—an order of magnitude lower than the chances of getting in an automobile crash, to be specific. Then speak to ways to further increase transit safety.
Compare transit with car travel. Recognize that transit travel is far safer than automobile transportation.
List Practical Ways to Reduce Crime Risk. After communicating the relative security of transit, provide riders with steps they can take to minimize personal risk.
Promote Positive Safety Findings. Post positive data on public transit safety. Litman’s findings indicate that transit agencies rarely convey transit as the safer transportation option.

Public transit mobile WiFi from SinglePoint can play a key role in transforming this narrative. First, mobile WiFi helps passengers stay connected, informed, and empowered as they travel. This can help alleviate the primary psychological aspects of ridership that many people cite as deterrents: anxiety about being confined with strangers in a small space, absence of personal control in the event of an incident or emergency, and lack of privacy and social comfort. An added benefit of public transit WiFi is each passenger’s ability to use transit time for productivity, entertainment, or relaxation.

Mobile WiFi can also help transit agencies better communicate safety and security information to passengers during routine travel as well as during emergencies. However, many passengers will likely be unaware of these public transit WiFi benefits, so it will behoove agencies to publicize advantages such as real-time route data and connectivity between transit vehicles and central operators.

Finally, mobile WiFi from SinglePoint provides an opportunity for transit agencies and operators to convey safety and security messages to passengers in real-time. General messages that emphasize safety can be shared via the mobile WiFi system as passengers access the connection. Public transit WiFi also lends itself to multi-way communication between passengers, drivers, and central operators in the event that any safety or security concerns should arise. Contact us today to learn more about how our bus and train WiFi solutions can transform the safety narrative at your agency.

[Photo by Marcelo Moura via]

This entry was posted in Public Transit News, Transit Safety and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.