Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Taking transit in safer and less deadly than driving

If you’ve been following stories in the media lately about transit, there has been renewed fear about safety and security while on the transit system. I’ll be the first to admit that there is crime on our transit system (as I have been party to it), but sometimes it is good to step back and look at real vs. perceived safety and security while on transit. Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute recently published “Safer Than You!” which explores safety and security of transit systems.

Taking transit is hands down the safety mode of transportation. The following graph shows the contrast between urban transit deaths versus automobile deaths per billion passenger kilometres. Clearly being in a car is the least safe mode of transportation. In fact, only riding a motorcycle is more dangerous.

Canadian Fatality Rate By Mode

Litman also presents an interesting graph that shows deaths caused by automobile, strangers, and acquaintances. Again death caused by traffic collisions are on a completely different scale than murder caused by strangers or acquaintances. Interestingly, we have been lead to believe that strangers and transit should be feared, but it’s actually people we know and driving that have a significantly high chance of causing harm to us.

Traffic Versus Murder Deaths

When it comes to overall crime, Litman suggests that transit-friendly communities actually have an overall lower crime rate. In fact, vehicle-related crimes have a higher cost to society than crimes that occur on transit.

Improving transportation options and smart growth development polices can help create a positive security cycle of more responsible (no-criminal) urban resident, increased use of active and public transport modes, improved urban service, increase economic opportunity for at-risk residents, reduced crime rate, reduce fear, and the stigma of urban living In fact the more legitimate users there are of transit, the more safely the system become.

Litman points out that transit agencies need to do a better job of improving the perception of safety on the transit system which includes the design of stations and safety messaging. Litman’s key takaway messages include:

-Public transit is the safest travel mode. It has about one-tenth the fatality rate as automobile travel
-Total traffic deaths and injuries tend to decline as transit use increases in a community
-Residents of transit-oriented communities have about a fifth the per capita traffic fatality rate as compared to in automobile-oriented areas
-Since most transit trips include walking and cycling links, public transit travel tends to increase public fitness and health. Using public transit is a practical way to exercise: transit passenger average about 19 daily minutes (three times the North American average), which nearly achieves official physical activity targets
-Crime risk is not necessarily greater for public transit than automobile travel. Transit passengers face risks of theft and assault. Motorists face risks of vehicle theft and vandalism, vehicular assault, road rage, plus risks when walking to and from parked vehicles, or when their vehicle fails in isolated locations
-As transit ridership increases crime risk tends to decline due to increased surveillance
-Individuals can make transit safer for everybody by reporting possible security threats and supporting community safety programs

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