5 personal strategies for public transportation safety

As more and more people rely on the use of public transportation due to high fuel prices and heavily congested highways, there is critical need for passengers to take certain precautions and become more aware of their overall safety.  As a passenger, you should stay informed of important safety information, become aware of your immediate surroundings, think ahead about how to react in a dangerous situation, report suspicious persons and circumstances, and be willing to take action if necessary.  The following steps could keep you and others around you safe during an unforeseen accident, criminal act, or from incidents of terrorism.

Crowded subway car1. Be informed

Especially if you use public transportation on a regular basis, take some time to visit public websites and read readily available information in order to understand what is expected of you as a passenger.  I would venture to guess that most people have used public transportation for years and have never bothered to read safety pamphlets or visit important public transportation websites.  Further, it is a good idea to program important telephone numbers and web addresses into your smartphone for fast reference and easy accessibility.  Additionally, many transportation authorities have developed free smartphone apps, which allow passengers to quickly report and document suspicious or criminal activity.

2. Be aware

Make a conscious effort to be aware of the people around you, including the mood and energy of passengers in your area.  You should become familiar with location markings, entrance and exit points and the location of law enforcement and other authorities.  During an emergency or a disaster, information such as what train line you are on, what bus number you are riding or what highway exit you are near will become vital to your safety and for preservation of life.

3. Decide ahead

Don’t wait until you actually see something suspicious to decide what to do.  As you are using public transportation, instead of getting lost in your social media accounts or playing word games on your smartphone, engage in “what if” games in your head.  Imagine that the passenger in front of you has wires or the muzzle of a rifle sticking out of his or her backpack.  Envision an explosion going off or that you hear the sound of gunshots nearby.  Decide ahead of time how you would react to keep yourself and others safe.  Think of how you can prevent something bad from occurring.  This way, should you actually be faced with the same or a similar situation, you will be more apt to act quickly, as you already have a plan in mind.

4. Report

If you do see something suspicious, quickly decide who you will report it to.  There are a number of reporting options and you should immediately decide which one is most appropriate, depending upon the situation.  Should you call 911? Should you use a smartphone app?  Should you report directly to an employee or confide in another passenger?  Whatever you do, don’t hesitate.  Hesitation could prolong the response by emergency authorities and get you and your fellow passengers injured or killed.  Decide ahead of time what would trigger you to make a report.

5. Act

Now it is time to do something.  Inaction only serves to jeopardize your safety and the safety of other passengers.  You have a number of options to choose from, including rallying others, fighting back, disembarking, or taking others with you to a safer area.  The only option you should definitely not choose is to do nothing.  As I stated earlier, inaction could get you or others hurt or killed.

Using public transportation should be an enjoyable and carefree experience.  However, as a passenger, you bear some responsibility for not only your own safety, but also for the safety of other passengers and bystanders in the area.  These are simple steps you could take to fulfill that responsibility and help maintain the usefulness and overall safety of public transportation.  It only takes the use of common sense, breaking out of your routine a bit, and resisting the natural human condition of complacency.


David Jannetty is the Academic Program Manager for the John P. Burke School of Public Service Master of Public Administration program at Post University, and is a retired assistant deputy police chief with the Waterbury, CT Police Department. Jannetty has over 22 years of experience in law enforcement, school and workplace safety, and emergency management.

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