Addressing Transit Safety in a Post-Pandemic World

Throughout the pandemic, cities across North America have seen a drastic drop in transit use.

COVID-19 has shed light on our notions of safety, and those who have been avoiding transit during the pandemic may be hesitant to return if they continue to feel that transit is unsafe.

Post pandemic, we can’t rely on rideshares and driving, as these options can be costly, unsustainable, and add to the congestion on our streets. Therefore, returning to transit is critical for our post-pandemic recovery.

As cities and transit agencies begin planning for a return to a more normal way of life, addressing safety concerns is critical to boosting transit ridership.

Technological Advancements on Improving Ridership

Transit agencies are aware of the frequency and reliability of their services and how it affects ridership. With the goal to improve service reliability, the TTC introduced the Daily Customer Service Report to provide updated information on their performance. The scorecard allows the TTC to increase transparency and accountability to show how well they are serving their customers on a daily basis.

For overcrowding in buses, the TTC partnered with transit trip planning mobile apps, Rocketman and Transit, to provide live bus occupancy information. Passengers can see the volume of passengers on buses approaching their stop, and help them plan trips based on which vehicle they’re most comfortable boarding.

Metrolinx also has an app for trip planning called Triplinx for passengers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas. Customers can just enter their start and end location and the app will help them navigate public transit across GO Transit and other local transit agencies.

It is also important to know that that transit workers are visible and available to help riders as transit workers are trained and ready to help victims of harassment and when there are other safety concerns.

Technology can also be used as a measure of safety. With the SafeTTC app, customers can report harassment, safety concerns, or suspicious activity to TTC’s Transit Control Centre. Data from the app can be used to inform any future policies.  This can make transit even safer for passengers.

Providing Proper Infrastructure

Women were more likely to report feeling more anxious waiting at a transit stop than when onboarding a transit vehicle. Having proper safety infrastructures like emergency buttons, security cameras, and bright lighting can increase comfort levels amongst passengers.

When thinking beyond transit stops or stations, it is crucial to ensure that connecting cycling and walking routes have strategic infrastructure designs that contribute to the customers’ safety, such as providing adequate bike parking in well-lit areas. 

Additionally, installing proper signage can provide passengers with the confidence of knowing when and where to catch your train. Metrolinx installed colourful platform signs that provide clarity on where to stand at the train station based on what length of train rolls in. The colour-coded signs will provide passengers with a more comfortable experience, knowing everyone is spread out in a physically distanced manner.

As people return to the office, there will be an increase in the number of people walking, cycling, and taking transit. To ensure a seamless transition back to work, the TTC has begun implementing BRT lanes on select routes to maintain regular service and reduce overcrowding in stations.

Implementing Communications Campaigns

Marketing campaigns are critical to encouraging people to report harassment and crime. Transit agencies can implement various education and outreach strategies to stop harassment and assaults in public transit.

In 2020, Toronto saw an ‘unprecedented’ spike in hate crime, particularly against the Asian community. The Chinese Canadian National Council released a report detailing 643 incidents of anti-Asian racism across Canada from March to December 2020, finding that 10% of incidents happened on public transit, and 49% occurred in public spaces like parks, streets, and sidewalks. 

In an effort to reduce incidents of harassment and assault on public transit against Asians, New York City created a PSA series on anti-harassment focused on survivor empathy and changing perpetrators’ behaviour. 

Providing bystander education through workshops can help provide tips to the public on how to safely offer help or deescalate a situation if they witness an incident. 

Through organizing or co-sponsoring public education workshops and events, riders have the chance to fill out surveys where they can provide feedback on their experience with safety on transit and suggested improvements. 

Addressing COVID-19

To ensure customer safety, transit agencies continue to actively participate in increased cleaning procedures amidst COVID-19

All transit employees have been receiving regular health screenings, wearing face coverings with access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and practicing physical distancing at work.

Sanitizing machines are also provided across transit stations to keep riders and transit employees safe. Health and Safety kiosks are available at several GO stations where riders can voluntarily check their temperature.

To further prevent the spread of COVID-19, plexiglass seat dividers are placed between passengers in the GO vehicles, providing a higher level of safety and comfort in a closed area.   

In the event a person with a suspected case of COVID-19 has been on the premises/on-board, transit agencies are tasked to immediately closing a station/taking a vehicle out of service for deep cleaning.

Transit agencies in Canada are taking proper measures to ensure the safety of their passengers and employees amidst this unprecedented time.

Our Role

As transportation demand management experts, we understand the importance of individual experience and the barriers people face when making transportation decisions.

Transportation demand management professionals can play a part in creating and supporting public messaging campaigns promoting the safety measures on transit and working directly with people to address their concerns.

Whether you are returning to the office full-time, preparing for a hybrid approach, or continuing to work remotely, the Smart Commute program is here to help address workplace and commuting challenges.  

Photo by Matt Moloney on StockSnap

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