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Past research has shown that the fears and concerns of transit passengers about safety influence their travel decisions. While the relationship between women’s fear of crime and public space has been the focus of considerable research, transit environments – which are especially threatening to female passengers – have received much less attention. This study examines the issue of women’s safety on transit through a comprehensive review of the literature on the topic, in-depth interviews with representatives of national interest groups, a survey of U.S. transit operators, and presentation of case studies and best practices from the U.S. and abroad.

The women interviewed for this study argued that women as a group have distinct safety/security needs and are often fearful of transit settings with specific social and physical characteristics. Their fear leads them often to adjust their behavior and travel patterns and/or avoid certain travel modes and settings at certain times. This situation is more acute for particular groups of women, who because of age, income, type of occupation, sexual preference, and place of residence may be or feel more vulnerable to victimization and harassment than others. The women interviewed outlined a series of design, policing, security technology, education and outreach strategies that would make women riders feel safer in public settings.

Nevertheless, the survey of transit operators found that only a handful of agencies in the U.S. currently have programs that target the safety and security needs of women riders. Most survey respondents believed that women have distinct safety and security needs, but only one third of them believed that transit agencies should put specific programs into place to address these needs. Additionally, the survey suggested that there is a significant mismatch between the safety and security needs and desires of female passengers and the types and locations of strategies that transit agencies use.

While transit operators in the U.S. have not initiated any particular programs specifically targeting women’s safe travel, transit agencies and municipal governments in some other countries and nonprofit groups in the U.S. and other countries have started initiatives that target women’s safe and comfortable travel. Based on lessons learned from such initiatives, as well as the input of respondents in our interviews and survey, this study proposes a series of suggestions to close the gap between research and practice on the topic of women’s safety, and address the mismatch between the needs of women and the practices of transit operators in the U.S. These include 1) initiation of researcher-practitioner dialogues; 2) incorporation of women’s voices in the planning process; 3) collaboration and partnering between transit agencies and nonprofits; 4) prioritization of safety/security needs in the transportation system; 5) tailoring safety/security initiatives to the particular needs of communities; 6) adopting a multipronged approach to safety that utilizes environmental design, policing, security technology, education and outreach strategies and policy initiatives; and 7) initiating pilot programs and policies with the goal of enhancing the safety of women riders. 

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