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  • Haleema Bharoocha

A Transformative Approach to Transit Safety

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Safety impacts people’s decisions to ride a train or take a bus, and traditional law enforcement approaches often don’t address their concerns. That’s because safety isn't merely the absence of harm; transit agencies must create an environment that encourages riders to embark on their journeys confidently. In TransForm’s groundbreaking report, Ride Fearlessly: A Framework for Reimagining Transit Safety, we offer a roadmap for safer, more inclusive transit systems.

Our research found that people define safety differently. One person may feel uncomfortable by the presence of litter, and another by witnessing someone facing a mental health crisis. Safety, as the report reveals, is an interplay of objective measures (such as violence) and subjective perceptions (such as cleanliness). Policing-centric strategies don’t touch many of the elements critical to giving transit riders a feeling of security.

We built the report through extensive interviews with transit agencies and advocates and research, delving into the experiences of marginalized communities, particularly Black and Brown riders, to show how societal factors and physical design shape transit experiences.

A new framework to foster safety on transit

Our findings inspired a three-part policy framework for transit safety.

  • Reimagine Safety Approaches: Seek out community-based approaches, leveraging innovation and imagination, intentional data analysis, and meaningful community partnerships. Use pilot programs to test new ideas and allow time to get feedback from riders and staff before making permanent changes.

  • Redesign Systems, Culture, and Spaces: Create reliable and frequent service that meets changing rider needs. Use environmental design strategies such as bright lighting and accessible operator call boxes to mitigate everyday acts of harassment and harm. Cultivate inclusive and communal spaces and confront harmful behavior via strategies like bystander intervention training.

  • Reduce Harm: Prevent negative interactions between riders and law enforcement by decriminalizing fare enforcement, deploying transit ambassadors, and limiting police use of force. Critically, agencies must review code of conduct enforcement policies, which can lead to harmful interactions with law enforcement that don’t enhance rider safety.

The report includes successful case studies that spotlight the efficacy of non-law enforcement strategies. Initiatives like BART’s Not One More Girl campaign in the Bay Area, SEPTA's SCOPE program in Pennsylvania, and King County Metro's SaFE effort demonstrate that security doesn't always hinge on police presence. The report's insights prove that a more compassionate and community-oriented model can yield safer and more welcoming transit environments.

Safety is key to encouraging transit adoption

As transit agencies strive to rebuild ridership, the reimagining safety framework offers a blueprint for building a sense of trust and security that will allow riders, especially those from marginalized communities and identities, to rely on public transit. By taking these three steps, transit agencies can create a future where safety is all-encompassing and inclusion and equity prevail. The time for bold action is now – for a transit future where everyone can ride fearlessly.

To learn more about this approach, join our webinar on October 27 at 12:00 p.m. on Zoom. Watch the webinar.


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