Bus Stations as a transition zone to deal with safety

Issue of Safety

Users of bus services in Delhi, India, have identified safety as a vital factor to deliver quality services and attract users towards public transport, as based on a recently completed undergraduate dissertation (Sharma, 2019). We use the findings as the starting point of this blog, to highlight the importance of safety in public transport. Safety has recently become a critical component at a much wider scale in Indian context, and specially, Delhi’s context. Amongst multiple other variables, we consider that globalization partially contributes to the rising level of crime that leads one to safety concern. It is a societal problem at a larger scale. As per the study done by Ola Mobility Institute in 11 Indian cities including New Delhi, only 9% of women feel public transport is safe (Shah & Raman, 2019). While discussing the topic of safety in Public Transport, there are definitely societal change and psychological issues at stake, which are not discussed here. We rather focus on how built environment can address the issue of safety. The effect of the built environment on public transport  ridership is often broken down into 5 D’s: density of development, diversity of land uses, design of the environment, destination accessibility, and distance to transit (Ewing & Cervero, 2010). We focus on the design of environment surrounding bus stations/ stops and on the design of bus stations/ stops (and other mass transit stations). We focus more on bus services than other forms of public transport, based on the background of increasing attention towards improving ridership in bus because buses provide mobility to the majority of the population, and meet the “first mile-last mile” connectivity better than rail (Centre for Science and Environment, 2018).

bus stop

Indian cities have given much attention to surveillance system like CCTV or panic buttons to improve safety in buses. The provision of CCTV cameras and alarm buttons (the most common and famous measure) are important, but they cannot stop crime. They become useful only after a crime has been committed. It is clear that “the environment around bus stops or stations makes a difference in both safety and perceptions of safety”. Therefore, we discuss here how conceptualizing and designing a bus station would ensure one’s safety. Also, many studies have suggested that improving the design of bus stops/ stations have huge importance and it can also help in enhancing safety in bus transport services. For instance, over-crowdedness within public transport modes contributes towards wrong behavior from fellow passengers and becomes a threat to safety. As per a study done in Delhi by Jagori in 2010, 51% of women have faced sexual harassment in public transport, while another 42% while waiting for public transport. 

Importance of design of bus stations

We argue that a focus on the design of bus stations would assure both ridership and safety at bus stations. In terms of designing bus stations, there is already quite a bit of focus on innovative designs of bus station, in order to attract users, across the globe. It also encourages one to use the bus if the bus vehicles are designed innovatively. However, there is more to this. Bus stations in Delhi context has to be explored in terms of available facilities, such as, seating area, space for wheelchair, bus shelter, information screen, real time information kiosk, and even small-scale shopping areas in case of really high-density bus stops.

Moreover, there are recent research projects that are investigating public transport, both public transport mode and public transport stations, as public spaces. This is a very strong point that requires to be more highlighted. By public transport, we mean both within public transport and public transit stations. In specific, public transport stations, should be reshaped into something more than static transit infrastructure, but a vibrant public space that foster community engagement and enhance users’ experience. Therefore, Safety at bus stops can  be enhanced by integrating the bus stations with its surrounding by contributing to the attractiveness of bus stations. On one hand, it improves one’s tendency to use public transport, and on the other, improve the safety of the bus station as this is not a deserted place otherwise. A study done by Translink in 2010, showed that 45% of residents along Main Street in Vancouver are more likely to choose transit after improvements to sidewalks and bus shelters were made in 2005 (NRG Research Group, 2010). Because riders expend a great deal of time, energy and patience outside of buses while waiting or transferring (Taylor, Iseki, Miller, & Smart, 2007), enhanced passenger amenities are greatly valued by passengers (Jenks, 1998). Alternatively, lack of adequate design leads to commuters feeling undervalued and thereby view the waiting experience as an impediment to choosing transit (Hess, 2012; Wardman, 2001). As bus stops are embedded into the neighbourhoods, integrating it with surrounding land use will not only benefit the riders, but also improve the immediate urban realm. A more comfortable waiting environment leads to greater rider satisfaction and shorter perceived wait times, leading to higher ridership (Zhang, 2012).

pittsburgh bus stop

Pittsburgh bus stops as public space. Credit: Project for Public Spaces, https://www.pps.org/article/engaging-pittsburghs-bus-stops-bus-stops-as-public-spaces

TOD as an alternative tool

In this regard, the debate can also be related to Transit Oriented Development. While at the city scale, the built environment is developed along the mass transit corridor with high density, however, there is still a high demand for parking. Real life examples show that such TOD becomes a neoliberal tool, as properties are sold at a high expense which is affordable only by high income groups. This makes the affordable housing communities who are also essentially public transport users physically stay at a distance from the public transport stations. In addition, since those who are residing close to public transport stations do not use public transport, it is likely that public transport stations would have safety issues. Hence, from these perspectives, integrating bus stations as a transition zone between community space and pedestrian infrastructure would make sense. In fact, developing the pedestrian infrastructure, be it under the framework of designing street for all, or reclaiming street, as an integrated network with bus stations, would improve both the ridership of public transport and safety at the bus stations. However, considering the financing may have to come from the private sector (for profit), there could be challenges in doing so. This is discussed below in detail. This idea should fit well under the broader framework of street for all design and reclaiming public space. It is already mentioned in studies that bus users are also happy pedestrians. Designing bus stations in an elaborate scale would also allow integration of bus stations within surrounding land uses. This is again helpful both in terms of improving ridership and safety.

Following Manuel Castells, infrastructures have been treated either explicitly or implicitly in the built environment depending on contemporary urban challenges. Infrastructures remained black-boxed as long as they worked smoothly. Once it was not working well, there was a need to open the black box. Following that line of logic, it is time to reconsider the role of bus stations in the urban design exercise. Highlighting the bus station design would fit well on the backdrop of Street for all design framework. Hence, from an urban design perspective, bus stations would become a very prominent component of the pedestrian infrastructure landscape. With a focus on climate change mitigation and low carbon infrastructure, it is a contemporary urban issue, and hence, with that background, it is required that such infrastructures are highlighted in designing the built environment.

While the literature on this has been dominated by a positivist approach, it is time to use non-positivist approach too. While non-positivist approach does look like non-technical to some extent, and hence, is undermined in certain context, what we are discussing here still remains strongly technical. This is also supported by the fact that there are strong governance and finance issues related to the topic. Technical doesn’t only mean engineering considerations, which is also something relevant in this case; technical means consideration of governance and financing issues, which are highly relevant in this case.

Governance and Financing

From a governance perspective, it is useful to highlight bus stations, on the one hand, as a community space to be maintained by the community, and on the other, as part of prominent pedestrian infrastructure at large. In order to be considered as a community space, bus stations are required to be physically integrated with surrounding land uses. However, to be considered as part of pedestrian infrastructure, it is required that bus stations are physically part of the pedestrian infrastructure. These two parameters clearly indicate how bus stations could be treated as a transition area between the public space (pedestrian infrastructure) and the semi-public space (community space). For obvious reasons, the integration has to be more than physical integration, also in terms of integration  of governance and finances.

Currently, private sector operators deliver and maintain bus stations on contractual basis. Financing of bus station delivery and maintenance is particularly important for more elaborate bus station designs . From a financing perspective, it is helpful to consider bus stations as part of the community space, as financing for maintenance would come from the community itself. The other source of funding could be the charges from commercial buildings like sales tax, betterment levis or shops and establishment levies etc. where these stations are located. Presently, private developers generate money from advertisements for maintenance of these bus stops. It is often argued that public transport vehicles and stations are part of public infrastructure, and hence, should be financed and owned by the public sector. However, it is a matter of context-specific issues at hand. For instance, the central government of India issued grants through programs like JNNURM, AMRUT etc. to invest in pedestrian infrastructure. In case bus stations are promoted as an integrated part of pedestrian infrastructure, it is more likely that they can access the required funding. Moreover, there are other ways of cross-subsidy with revenue generated through private vehicle infrastructure like parking charges, congestion pricing, road tax  etc..  To make cities more sustainable and environmentally friendly, focus is shifting from private vehicles to public transport, thus multiple urban challenges related to hard and soft infrastructure of public transport are increasingly attracting attention.



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