Public Transit And Safety: Can Digital Technologies Help Reduce Crime In Transportation?

Public Transit And Safety: Can Digital Technologies Help Reduce Crime In Transportation?

Transit agencies are facing unprecedented challenges as crime rates on public transport steadily increase, making passengers and staff both feel unsafe on public transit networks. Multiple surveys conducted in a series of countries have identified that fear of crime and personal security is a major inhibiting factor to the use of public transport, second only in many surveys to reliability and accessibility.  

The issue of public safety has long been a concern for both agencies and local authorities and as a result, we have seen how traditional and emerging technologies have come together to create new solutions that benefit the safety of the general public. Developments in technology have allowed for new and improved methods of operating transit systems, offering better services and products to passengers.

Let’s take a look at how traditional and emerging digital transit technologies can help reduce crime rates in the transportation network, creating a better and smarter city infrastructure.

A quick overview of criminal behavior on public transit systems

Crime in the public transport sector poses some unique challenges to authorities as well as transit providers, particularly due to their wide accessibility and different modes of travel that include in and around facilities such as stations, bus stops, and onboard moving vehicles. In short, the public transport network brings increased accessibility to places. This however creates distinct patterns for offending that range in nature depending on the place and time.

Generally speaking, there are around six categories of crimes that we observe in the public transport network. The most obvious ones revolve around crimes against passengers such as theft, robbery, and assault. Other crimes involve assault against staff members and employees in various transit sectors who are also vulnerable to robbery in some cases. Graffiti and other forms of vandalism of public transport facilities and property are also an issue as well as the rising percentage of crimes committed by people exhibiting some form of mental illness or disturbances and antisocial behavior.  

Public transport plays a very important part in the reduction of social exclusion, specifically for societal groups who rely on this type of affordable transport for the majority of their daily activities. These groups include low-income households, citizens with no access to a car, students, elderly people, and mothers. Public transit systems provide access to important facilities such as workplaces and health institutions, as well as any facility relating to leisure, education, or retail activities.

U.S. cities are responding to an increased rate of violent crime across public transit systems

According to a study by the Mineta Transportation Institute published in August, The United States leads in the number of attacks and fatalities recorded on public transportation against passengers and employees in comparison to a group of economically advanced countries.  

The scale of the problem is clearly illustrated in large cities like New York where transit crime rates jumped by 41% year-over-year in June, 57% in July, and 19.5% in August, as stated by findings and statistics provided by the New York Police Department. Other cities such as Seattle, Chicago, North Carolina, and Charlotte have been facing similar concerns regarding violent crimes increasing across transit systems. Cities such as Philadelphia have even reported an 80% increase in robberies and violent assaults since 2019.

Can digital transit technologies help reduce crime rates in the transportation network?

With attacks on public transit rising, cities struggle to make riders and staff feel safe which has resulted in a decline in ridership, further affecting the losses in revenue due to the pandemic and Covid crisis. Agencies are actively looking for ways to improve ridership while also addressing and dealing with public safety concerns around transit facilities and services.  

Smart technologies come with a multitude of benefits, one of them being the elimination of a constant need for human monitoring of various transit operations as well as the purchasing and maintenance of expensive equipment. Transport providers and authorities can work together towards implementing new plans and strategies which will solve issues such as congestion, and environmental concerns.

It is estimated that the long waits for trains for example make riders nervous and cause many to choose other modes of transportation. More frequent services essentially bring more riders, and more riders make the system safer for everyone. Contactless payment methods, Mobile ticketing, and Account-based fare collection provide riders with more flexibility, faster commute, convenience, and more options for paying and moving safely across various transit systems. Less money handling and carrying of banknotes and change can also serve as an additional stimulus to reducing robberies.

New and upcoming technologies that can help reduce crime rates and prevent further decline in ridership on public transport networks

We are already seeing this happening on a global scale. Transit agencies and authorities from all across the globe are actively working together to find newer, smarter technology that will provide solutions to problems such as rising crime rates, effective methods of increasing safety on public transit networks, improving the decline of ridership, and dealing with issues of environmental nature or relating to outdated systems that no longer meet the needs of passengers.  

There is a demand for upgrades in software, hardware, and digital technology that will allow for better functionality and analysis of data to meet efficiency, sustainability, productivity, and safety objectives for transit providers.  

So the question stands – are there intelligent products and technologies available on the market which can effectively improve transit infrastructure and public safety? The answer is yes and many have already experienced the multiple benefits (for both riders and agencies) that came as a result of implementing such technologies in their local transit systems.

Account-based fare collection

Through systems such as Account-based ticketing, Transit agencies can implement and devise both strategies and packages offering more discounts and affordable travel options across all transit networks so that more people with different social statuses can have access to a broader spectrum of services in the public transport sector.  

Account-based systems allow transit agencies to collect ridership data and then use it to upgrade and customize services and products that are specifically tailored to suit the needs of passengers. In the long run, this improves ridership experience and overall customer satisfaction. But how exactly does it help increase safety in public transport? 

Account-based ticketing allows passengers seamless and convenient travel options whatever their preferred mode of transit is. Less time is spent at stations and facilities, there is no cash handling, human interaction is limited, and additional access is provided to more social groups due to savings made from offers and deals available through the customer’s account.

Mobile ticketing

Mobile ticketing for public transportation

The use of digital mobile tickets is already making a huge impact across various transit networks. It provides a seamless, convenient, and hygienic way for passengers to travel using public transport by enabling the use of a smartphone instead of a physical ticket. What this essentially means is that riders can order, pay for, obtain, and validate a ticket using only by using their smartphone, an app, and the internet. This makes commuting faster, safer, and reliable and since almost every person carries a smartphone with them it is almost effortless to use this method of travel.  

The removal of physical tickets from public transport benefits the environment, the population, and public transport providers. Mobile ticketing reduces the interaction between staff and passengers and saves transit agencies money and valuable resources which can be invested towards improving transit infrastructure, software, equipment, and other services that can increase safety in the public transport sector.

Contactless EMV Payments

EMV contactless payment

The adoption of Contactless EMV Payments is steadily rising across the public transport sector as more passengers prefer to use a contactless bank card to pay for their trips. EMV is a great alternative to cash which is proven to be both secure and reliable, with a wide range of payment options supported by Europay, Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Discover, etc. Passengers no longer need to constantly buy or top up smart cards or mobile apps or even buy any kind of ticket in advance.  

As a result, boarding time is significantly reduced meaning passengers spend less time in public transport facilities and it eliminates the need for cash handling, having to worry about exact change, or waiting in long lines. Smartphones and other smart wearables provide an additional EMV payment option through mobile payment services such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.  

On the other hand, this also means reduced operational costs for transport providers as the expensive process of issuing and managing smart cards or tickets is reduced.

Other comprehensive tools, products, and services

The technological evolution we have seen in the last decade or so has allowed tech companies all across the globe to create a comprehensive set of tools, products, and services that help transit operators upgrade their current systems, optimize performance, and offer smart products as well as intelligent transportation services to the general public.   

This has introduced solutions to a variety of safety concerns in the transit sector, many of which we discussed earlier in this article. It is important to look at the picture as a whole because when these types of smart technologies are integrated correctly into a working transit system, operations, performance, and quality of service are significantly improved. How does this relate to reducing crime rates across the public transport network? 

Think of it this way – the more sophisticated and advanced technology is in a certain sector, the less chance there will be for individuals to want to commit a certain crime in a location where it is dominant.

  • The convenience and benefits that come as a result of implementing smart transit technologies attract more riders, increases ridership meaning more people using public transport services and there is less chance of crimes being committed and reported.  
  • New software, systems, and products offer solutions that make commuting safer for riders. Reduced boarding time, cashless/contactless payments, smarter tools for validation, and more control over a journey – from beginning to end.
  • Reduced costs for transit operators mean they can now invest valuable time and resources toward new and improved ways of raising safety across transit networks by working closely with authorities, creating more awareness campaigns, installing improved lighting systems, and upgrading facilities and important technological equipment such as CCTV.

Some examples of technologies that are already creating a huge impact on the transportation network include Account-based Fare Collection, Mobile ticketing, Contactless Open Loop Payments For Public Transit, Different Modes of Validation (EMV, Mobile Ticketing, NFC smart cards, and Smart wearables), Automatic Vehicle Location, Real-time Passenger Information, Electronic Fare Validator, and Ticket Vending Machines and Real-time Insights & Analytics.

Can traditional and new technologies increase safety in more social groups?

It’s widely known that women are amongst the most vulnerable groups in society. It is estimated that they are three times more likely to worry about their safety when it comes to public transport. They also tend to rely more on public transportation, where sexual harassment and more gender-based violent crimes can commonly take place. 

So can transit providers consider this and offer better products and services that meet the needs of more social groups? 

Here are a few examples of some improvements that can be done to transit systems and facilities:

  • Trip-planning apps that take personal safety into account, such as routing walks along well-lit streets and marked designated areas for licensed operating vehicles.  
  • Shared bike and scooter mobility services, designed particularly for women, with child seats, places for bags and luggage, and tandem bikes or bike shares designed for children. 
  • Combined family fares that offer a single payment for adults with children, making public transit more affordable. 
  • Better accommodation for families with elevators and wider entry gates. 
  • Brighter station lighting and improved surveillance equipment.  
  • Improvement of public transport facilities which allow for easier mobility, especially for women who are more likely to be traveling with children in strollers.

Transit technologies are bound to continue their evolution and with that, we hope to see new and exciting developments that improve various areas of the public transport sector, including increasing safety for everyone which will be a future goal for any smart city infrastructure.