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Incorporate safety services and design features specifically for the needs of women and girls in public transit systems

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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Many features can be added to transit stops and within public transit vehicles to accommodate the needs of women and girls. These additions can aim directly at safety (e.g. emergency phones) or at convenience (e.g. comfortable benches). Either way, easier and safer public transit systems ensure that women and girls are not forced into situations which make them uncomfortable, vulnerable, or scared.

Promote the establishment of Designated Waiting Areas (DWAs).

One study found that women and girls feel more insecure while waiting for public transit than while using public transit (Halber, T., 2010). DWAs are areas designated specifically for passengers waiting for public transit.  The creation of DWAs allows women and girls to wait comfortably and safely in locations where bus or subway services are infrequent. These areas are well-lit, serviced by intercoms, monitored by security cameras, and are in a location where a security guard or police person frequently patrols (TTC, 2009b). DWAs might include other features such as ample and comfortable seating (designed for those with wheelchairs/canes, shopping parcels, and baby carriages) and protection from the elements. When these waiting areas are enclosed, it is preferable that walls are made of glass or another transparent material, so that women and girls can see what is going on around them, and others can see them if they are in danger (Drusine, 2002).








Ensure that there is equipment for emergencies on public transit and at public transit stops.

Women, girls, and other transit passengers will be more secure on transit and at transit stops if these sites are equipped with clearly indicated emergency telephones and intercoms on platforms, within public transit buildings and within easy reach in parks and other public areas (TTC, 2009b). In addition, passenger assistance alarm strips or bells can be installed on the interior of subway cars, buses, etc. These allow passengers to contact transit drivers immediately when there is an emergency (TTC, 2009b). The installation of cameras on public transit or in public transit waiting areas is another means of monitoring activities on the subway system, buses, streetcars, and trains, which may serve to deter cases of violence and harassment, and make these spaces feel safer.


Case Study: Designing Out Crime on Public Transit: Crime Prevention Toolkit

This toolkit, produced by the Crime Reduction Home Office of the UK, provides an in-depth exploration of design measures to reduce crime on public transit through a process called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED). Case studies, such as those on the construction of the Washington Metro in 1976 and remedial measures introduced at the Port Authority Bus terminal in New York in the 1990s, provide detailed information regarding specific design features that contribute to preventing violence. For example, the following features were incorporated in the Washington metro in the interest of ensuring the safety of passengers:

> High arched ceilings to produce openness and reduce fear.

> Spacious platforms to increase feelings of safety.

> Long, straight escalators, to avoid mezzanines where criminals might lurk.

> Overhead crossovers between platforms rather than dark frightening tunnels below the tracks.

> Restful lighting designed not to cast alarming shadows.

> Recessed platform walls and easily-cleaned surfaces for trains to discourage graffiti.

> Closed Caption TV (CCTV) on platform and at entrances to facilitate surveillance by staff and to make passengers feel safe.

> Two-way radios for all employees to summon help or be alerted.

> Attendants at platform entrances to provide assistance to passengers, to monitor CCTV and to deter fare evaders.

> Intercoms on trains and emergency phones throughout the stations.

> Electronic fare cards that open gates at entrance and exit.

> No restrooms as these facilitate prostitution or drug dealing.

In the Port Authority Bus Terminal, an enormous station with nine levels, the following measures were implemented in the 1990s to combat high levels of crime and violence:

> Install pushcarts and place them strategically.

> Renovate the food court.

> Avoid interior doors.

> Avoid direct access to extra stairwells.

> Keep stairs away from street entries.

> Close off areas under stairwells.

> Close in areas between columns.

> Bring walls out to columns.

> Close emergency stairs off-hours.

> Block off much of bus station off-hours.

> Use only saw-tooth gates off-hours.

> Centralise ticketing.

> Improve street entrances to the building.

> Put merchants in key places, and to fill in empty spots.

> Replace police cars with golf carts in parking structure.

> Use clear glass panels on waiting room walls.

> Wall up unneeded areas.

> Block walls around bus gates against transient take-overs.

> Block elevators from public use.

> Block off construction areas with plywood.

From the Designing Out Crime on Public Transport in the Crime and Prevention Toolkit, Crime Reduction Home Office of the UK.  Available in English.



Advocate for the creation of Care Units at transit stations.

Care Units can be located in key locations such as subway stations, bus stations and train terminals. These stations are designed to provide immediate assistance to women who have experienced violence in or around public transit. At a care unit, women can file a complaint, learn about her options for legal recourse, and receive counselling. (See the case study on “Viajemos Seguras en el Sistema de Transporte Publico de la Ciudad de Mexico” in Spanish for further information.

Mobilize private sector support to supplement limited governmental resources for safety design services and features related to public transit.

Government resources should be allocated to women’s and girls’ safety in public transit as a priority of public budgets at all levels. However, when a local government claims, for example, that there are insufficient funds in the municipal budget to create Designated Waiting Areas at all subway stops, outreach with private sector companies for resources can provide a viable alternative (Kunieda and Gauthier, 2003, 27). While not a substitute for sustained commitments from municipal budgets, these sorts of private sector initiatives and public-private partnerships represent a complementary strategy, also to bring about more immediate changes to the physical landscape. One way to make funding in this area more appealing to private partners is to incorporate advertising for their business on safety design features.


Case Study: Adopt a Light Limited.

This programme was implemented in Nairobi, Kenya, after a company was inspired to work to provide better street lighting as a means for achieving safer cities. Using the motto ‘Advertising with a Purpose’, this company has succeeded in installing over 185 streetlights along the major highways and in slums of Nairobi. The resources for this achievement were provided by various companies who were asked to ‘adopt a streetlight’. In return for this donation, the business can use the streetlight as a place to advertise (Kuneida and Gauthier, 2003, 27). The difference between darkly lit highways and streets and those that have extensive lighting at regular intervals can mean the difference between a woman making it safely to her destination, and, conversely, a woman experiencing some sort of violence.