Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Practical Ideas for Bus Safety

There's been a fair amount written about the bus shooting in St Paul. The incident prompted a heck of a lot of online discussion, as can be seen on Roadguy's blog. There are 115 comments on this post at the moment (!). Although the seems to be general consensus among those commenters that travel on buses, at least during non-commute hours, is dicey on occasion. The common techniques for pre-empting conflict on the bus are heard again and again: wear your headphones, read a book, don't make eye contact, keep to yourself. Also common are the complaints about unruly teenagers who seem to think that the bus is their personal playground, not to mention a variety of criminal activity.

Commenters have also pointed out that by and large riding the bus is pretty much safe (certainly during commuting hours). They point out that the questionable behavior is more a cultural problem than a criminal one. How, people ask, can we make riding the bus a more civilized affair?

I believe strongly that it is an issue of culture, best addressed not by legal regulation but by active condemnation by all the decent bus riders out there. On the most recent edition of MPR's In The Loop, the host posed the question: "Is it enough to take a stand simply by believing in a thing?" On audience member answered: "No--you have to take action." If we want our buses to be safe places to travel, we have to be willing to speak out en masse when we see people misbehaving.

Of course, that's mighty tough. Unless you know in advance that ten people will stand up with you to face down the situation, you're unlikely to get involved. Certainly I feel the same thing--why should I stick my neck out if I'm going to be out there all alone?

Although it is not terribly practical to stick transit officers on every bus, how about we take a cue from the Mall of America and encourage bus riders to join a volunteer enforcement group? Volunteers would ride the bus as normal, but be officially empowered to take action when a situation arises. They could wear some kind of identifying mark--buttons or hats or something--so people would know whom to approach if there was a problem.

I actually think this idea might work. Neighborhood watch groups, for instance, function in a similar fashion. They are not officers of the peace, per se, but have a functioning relationship with law enforcement and actively seek to play a role in improving the safety and security of their communities.

So who wants to sign up?

Coming on Monday: How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?


Anonymous Safety Czar said...

Safety is an issue close to my heart. I acknowledge that there is no bullet-proof method to keep one completely safe. However, one can significantly reduce his/her chances of being victimized by crime. These steps range from common sense choices to actually being able to fend off an assailant. Having been a victim of crime and worked around people who have been vicitimized, I noticed there are three types of personalities:

1. Self-defenders - Self-defenders recognize clear and present danger as well as potential threats. They carefully consider factors such as time of day and the reputaton of a given destination. He/she adopts home and personal defense systems (locks/alarms/weapons/martial arts), because he/she knows where the onus of the first line of defense falls: on one's self. While I do advocate concealed weapons and skill in self-defense (i.e. karate), someone less orthodox can lessen chances of danger by avoiding solitary travel, especially at night and places where alcohol is consumed. Self-defenders also have organized para-police units such as the famous Guardian Angels.

2. If-I-don't-look-at-them types - The I-don't-look-at- them types adopt a childish method to saftey. They think by not making eye contact or by putting on headphones criminals will not "bother them." False. The IPOD is not an invisible shield. The thing about not making eye contact is misleading as well. Most criminals don't want you looking when they strike. Surprise is a crook's best friend. So, if you're staring at the ground and not paying attention to your surroundings, you're inviting crime. Young women are the primary members of this group.

3. Not-going-to-worry-about-it types: They have no strategy, no training, and no plans in place. This method is no method at all -- it's a crap shoot. A false sense of invincibility. Young men are the primary members of this group.

This concept of safety, when speaking in simple terms, can be broken down into two points: 1. personal safety and 2. collective safety. Personal safety concerns those bad things that can happen to you. Collective safety are those bad things that can happen to everybody, including you. If you don't protect yourself, it costs society -- in terms of your medical bills as well as the public relations fallout. If you don't help in collective safety, we're all screwed.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Arthur Willoughby said...

There was a time I would have been tempted to step in when I saw nefarious activity, but unfortunately these days it seems one can't do so without risking execution.

I would risk death to protect my own life or that of someone else (even a stranger) but I would (and have) remain(ed) silent even when observing behavior I find/found incredibly objectionable.

My thought when reading stories like that are, of course, "Where are the parents?" I'm continually saddened and amazed by what constitutes parenting these days; it seems it's too much to ask that people raise kids to understand at the tender age of 16 and 17 that human life is precious, that you don't cap someone for dissing you on a bus.

I realize that most if not all folks reading this understand that and raise their children properly; however, it's the increasing number of folks who do not view childrearing as sacrosanct that are endangering us all.

I'm soon to move from the heart of St. Paul to the comforting embrace of the 'burbs and I won't look back. If and when atrocious behavior creeps to Woodbury, I'll move again, and hopefully enough "safe" space will remain that I can continue running until my life runs its natural course.

'Cuz I'm a person of words and communication, not of brute strength. I'd like nothing more than to shake some young ruffian by the shoulders and explain why his behavior is abhorrent, but that accomplishes nothing when the subject of the reproach is incapable of understanding polysylabbic words.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The common techniques for pre-empting conflict on the bus are heard again and again: wear your headphones, read a book, don't make eye contact, keep to yourself."

This "technique" is prevalent throughout our society, and it's bullshit.

The way to make the buses safer is just the opposite -- take your headphones off, introduce yourself to your neighbor, say good-morning, meet people's eyes...

5:57 AM  

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