Micro bus in Caracas, Venezuela

Safety and Public Transportation

Last week was the first time I felt the impact of Metro’s SafeTrack on my life. The large crowds and the tight space between people on the trains made me flash back to my experience using public transportation in my home city, Caracas, Venezuela.

My experience using public transportation in Caracas goes back to more than 8 years ago. Since then, the country has faced countless changes (some good, many not that good). Because it has been quite a few years since I’ve used public transportation in Caracas, much of my observations may be outdated; however, my experience growing up using public transportation in another major world city provides me with some perspective about public transportation in the nation’s capital.

Hold your bag tight!

In my experience, moving around Caracas using public transportation was often a dangerous adventure. For me, safety concerns and public transportation could not be separated. I felt completely exposed when I was surrounded by crowds in closed spaces which happened often on public transportation in Caracas. I felt exposed to all kinds of people, crowded in small and moving spaces (buses and Metro), and this often created uncomfortable situations.

Before leaving home and taking public transportation I used to prepare for it. I dressed accordingly, with low-profile clothes and comfortable shoes, no jewelry or fancy bags (not even fake just in case someone did not know the difference). In other words, nothing that called unwanted attention. Because of the massive crowds on public transportation, I always held my bag tight. Although I was never a victim of robbery, I heard many stories of people who had items removed from their bags without them noticing.

While the District’s transportation system isn’t the poster child for safety, the massive crowding during Safe Track reminded me that I do not take the same level of preparation and precaution when using the Metro system. Furthermore, the alternatives to Metro are often safer here than the alternatives in Caracas.

“Camionetas” – An informal transportation method

Unsafe micro bus loading

Passenger getting in a “camioneta”

Using “camionetas” was quite an experience. The space inside was tight and they were usually crowded.  To request a stop there was no cord or button, you had to yell loudly “LA SIGUIENTE PARADA POR FAVOR” (“The next stop please”), and hope that the driver heard you.Because of the rapid and exponential growth Caracas has experienced in the past few years, the public transportation has collapsed. To move around the city, I along with thousands of people, used “camionetas” as a main transportation mode. These micro buses were affordable and connected many areas of the city that were not covered by Metro and other public transportation modes. They were often overcrowded, dangerous to people and the environment.

Although they had established stops, they were not strictly enforced by their drivers or even police. Since they were smaller than regular buses, they moved faster in traffic and with more frequency; therefore, transporting more people to their destinations in less time. The amount of passengers they carried, as well as the uncontrolled and unregulated loading and unloading of passengers put many lives at risk. People used to jump to get on the micro buses while they were moving. Bus drivers also let people jump out in the middle of the street instead of waiting to get to the next stop.

Unsafe micro bus unloading

Passenger getting off a “camioneta” in the middle of the street in Caracas

Camionetas were also a significant source of pollution because the majority of the microbuses were old and produced large amounts of exhaust. In addition, the particularly loud honks contributed to the noise pollution on the streets.

Since I have been working at Nspiregreen in the District, I greatly rely on Metro to commute to work. Next week, my commute will be significantly impacted by SafeTrack; however, it gives me great relief and comfort knowing that there are safe alternatives for public transportation. While I still have to be vigilant, I am more comfortable here than in Caracas using my electronic devices to get me through what might be a frustrating commute to work.

 

Fabiana I. Paez has a background in Geography and Cartography. She is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in social and environmental causes.

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Transportation Safety Means More Than Crashes: Beginning to Heal

See Part 1 of this blog discussing the issue of international and domestic transportation safety for women.

“Pink Transport” is a gender-segregated bus or train car that currently operates in over fifteen countries as a solution to personal safety for women. However, these gender specific mode options do not provide the capacity or service that make for equality and safety for women. Women entering the general boarding cars of trains-  which are now referred to as “men’s cars”- are targeted and harassed for not using the women-only cars. Women in cities like Beijing are even advised to dress more conservatively, and avoid wearing so-called “provocative” clothing like miniskirts. However, all of these transportation interventions and messaging puts the burden of personal safety solely on the victim of harassment.

With the goal of sustainability and the movement toward a greater non-auto mode split, the perception of safety on and around public transportation is paramount for success. People, especially women, will not travel on alternate means of transportation (bikes, bus, rail, etc.) if the system lacks the proper measures to protect personal safety. There are steps that agencies, the community, and women can take to help with this problem:

  1. Transit operators need to have the knowledge and practical steps to better deal with this issue. Sensitivity training, knowledge of proper actions to deal with crises, and a streamlined method of reporting these offenses to transit or local police could be implemented.
  2. Women should be encouraged to speak up or report offenses. Women need to feel empowered to recognize when harassment is occurring and how to report it. Public awareness campaigns in transit systems as well as on television and radio media could be used to increase awareness of the issue, provide easy information on reporting offenses, and help women to understand that they will be heard and action will be taken when they report harassment.
    Women are feeling more and more empowered to speak out and tell their stories of injustice, harassment, and sexual assault. Groups like the Collective Action for Safe Spaces DC and HollaBack help give women a platform to share their stories and avoid the isolating effect that harassment in a public spaces can bring. In the District, WMATA has a platform to submit instances of harassment on the Metrorail and Metrobuses but often this is after the fact.
  1. Harassment is everyone’s problem. The public must realize that everyone has a hand in making transportation systems safe. According to HollaBack, all it takes is harassers to have the mindset that their behavior is acceptable or will go unnoticed, and a community around the person that are unwilling to intervene. Everyone has the opportunity to make transportation systems safer for all users. 

Everyone can and should take part in ending harassment and violence against women both locally and globally. Harassers need to be confronted about their behaviors and made to understand that it is not acceptable, nor will it go unnoticed. It takes a community of allies to help stop this behavior and help defend women that may feel- in the moment- embarrassed, alone, and helpless.

No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something”- HollaBack

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 

 

Transportation Safety- When It Means More Than Crashes

Public transportation is a way of life for many people around the globe. Both men and women use it to get to their destinations; however, the sexes do not face the same challenges on their daily commutes. In this realm of transportation, women lack a sense of safety and right to personal space. Women both in the US and internationally face sexual harassment, stalking, and assaults while riding public transportation. Personal safety on public transportation must be taken seriously and considered as part of the planning phase in order to reach the ridership goals of transportation plans.

I have faced this harsh reality time and time again as I walk the sidewalks or ride public transportation in Washington, DC. For example, while 7 months pregnant and riding a bus a man sitting next to me rattled off threats and insults, tried to show me a picture on his phone, and, at one point, threatened my life. There were people all around me, male and female, all within earshot and no one did anything. I remember thinking, “Am I the only one who hears this? Am I imagining this? Why won’t anyone help me?” For a split second, I wondered what I might have done to provoke such an action, but quickly pushed it out of my mind. I hadn’t done anything wrong. All I did was take a seat on the bus. This incident shook me to my core and made me rethink public transportation. A brave friend of mine loudly called out her harasser on a train full of commuters after she was groped on the New York City Subway. Public transportation is for all and no one should have to deal with harassment when commuting.

Unfortunately, these types of instances play out regularly for women on transit. Millions of women around the world have experienced some form of harassment or sexual assault while riding public transportation or merely existing in public space. This is also not a new problem. In a 2000 study, it was estimated that 87% of women have experienced some sort of street harassment, with over half reporting extreme harassment such as being groped, touched, rubbed, or other unwanted contact including being followed. For women that have experienced harassment, 84% internalized the harassment and reported having changed their actions to avoid these situations in the future. In other western societies like London, 43% of young women (ages 18-34) reported having experienced sexual harassment in public spaces over the past year alone.

Women in large international cities also report experiencing harassment or assaults in their daily commutes. Bogota, the long-heralded model for effective public transit, is reported as one of the most dangerous for women. Beijing, Dehli, and Kathmandu all have high rates of harassment and assaults on public transit. Each have attempted to implement gender-segregated train cars or vehicles as a solution, however, all of these alleged transportation solutions put the burden of safety solely on women.

In the already-crowded transit systems in such large cities, enforcement can be difficult and the limited availability of these modes and cars can extend commutes for women or worse, make them targets in general boarding areas. Furthermore, gender segregation on transit does not address the deep-seated, but painfully apparent societal issues that allow this harassment and assault to persist. Even after implementation of these solutions, many of these cities still experience the highest rates of sexual harassment on public transportation. A continued lack of safety causes some women to reconsider or avoid public transportation altogether seeking other, more protective, options. Solutions to these issues are also nuanced- no intersection redesign or traffic calming principles will solve these issues. It is this very aspect of the problem that makes them challenging but critical for transportation agencies to address.

See part 2 of this blog here discussing the beginning steps to address these issues.

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 





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