Updated on July 8, 2015
Public Transportation Safety
I suppose I have been riding the RATP/CTA and other forms of public transportation for so long that I often forget how terrifying it was the first time we used public transportation in a big city. After thinking about it, I suppose many people have unfounded fears that they can overcome only by trying new activities.
When we were children, I remember once taking the bus with my family to the mall across town. I know it took a long time, but my memory is just of getting to the mall. The small city were I was raised did not have a very accessible transportation system. I don’t think we took the bus much more after that.
The first time my family took the train in a big city, we were visiting my aunt who lived in Chicago at the time. She always drove, and didn’t spend much time on the El. She told us, “Don’t look at anyone; don’t talk to anyone.” We were terrified!
During our ride, a young man got on the train. He began to rap and ask for money. I was scared! Was he going to attack us? Was he going to rob us? My aunt told us to watch out for those people! What should I do?
All that fear was unfounded. I am not saying that I am not wary or suspicious at times when I get on public transportation, I am just saying that it is unnecessary to be deathly afraid. If we arm ourselves with the tools that we need, we will be able to stay safe in most situations.
Here are a few things that I do (or have done) to stay safe while using public transportation:
- Be aware of the surroundings
I am most annoyed by people who are on their phones all of the time and when their phone is stolen, they complain. I know that most people remain connected regardless of where they are. If we don’t see the person eyeing us holding our phones when we are entering/ leaving the train, how can we expect to protect ourselves?
And what about the people who take a nap on the train while holding their electronic device in their hands? I have mentioned to a few people, usually seniors, that they probably should watch their things.
I make it a practice to limit my online activities when I am on public transportation. I try to look up and look around. I look people in the eye, nod, make a connection so as to deter any ideas that I am a target. I am not perfect, and sometimes I am truly not interested in anyone, I just want to zone out. I do my best to fight this feeling so as to model (especially to Bean) how to interact when on the bus.
- Act Confident
People who appear to be unsure of themselves, lost, or tired tend to be more vulnerable to a person who is seeking a prey. Even in times of distress, I find that it is best to put on a brave front. When it is possible, I do everything I can beforehand to know something about the area where I am headed.
There have been a few times when I wanted to “discover” a new area of my city. I hopped on the bus with Bean and almost immediately felt uncomfortable. We rode a few steps and I did not feel any more comfortable with the people I was around or the area in which we happened to be. We got off of that bus fast and headed back to an area where I felt safer.
I didn’t show anyone that I was lost, uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the area. We just got off and headed back. I kept my eyes open for safe havens, my ears open to people who might have presented a threat and didn’t go there again. I presented an intimidating front and no one asked any questions.
When I was younger and living in Paris, the house I stayed in was maybe 10 minutes walking distance from the train station. I would spend the weekend with friends and then head back late at night. The train would often arrive after midnight and I still needed to walk those long ten minutes. I pulled out my phone and pretended to be having a conversation with someone to whom I was telling my journey. There were times I was actually on the phone with someone, but when it didn’t happen, I felt better especially when walking in areas that were not well lit.
I am older and wiser now, but if the need arises, I would certainly use this tactic again.
- Know where to find help
When we ride a train early in the morning to the airport, or late at night coming back from my brothers, or just when we want to feel safer, Bean and I ride right next to the door where the conductor of the train drives. If there isn’t a seat there, then I make sure we get a seat by the call button.
I have had to use the call button on a couple of occasions when there was a fight or an unruly passenger was disrupting the ride for everyone and no one wanted to say anything. We should never be afraid to speak up about behavior that puts us in danger.
In foreign countries, the button may be a little more difficult to find, in that case, ride as close to the first car as you can. Check out what the trains and buses are like before you get there. The more we know about what we are going into, the more confident we can feel about the situation once we get to our destination.
- Use all available aide
If an event should arise and I am accosted on public transportation, I most certainly will make a noise about it. I am not the type of person to go about complaining about every little incident. I am more likely to brush off a seeming threat as a fluke, but traveling with Bean makes me much bolder.
Self defense professionals say that we should kick and scream and yell, whatever we need to do. Perpetrators of a crime are more likely to run away if there is too much attention being drawn to them. While I pray nothing of the sort will ever happen, I am certainly going to make a noise…and if you are standing there just watching, beware, because I am going to demand that you get off of your phone and help me!
I am sure there are even more ways of staying safe when traveling on public transportation. I am certainly keeping it simple. If there is something that you do in particular to help you feel in control and aware, please share in the comments below.