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Clean Transport

Published on January 5th, 2015 | by Cynthia Shahan


The Truth Of How Safe Transit Is Compared To Driving

January 5th, 2015 by  

A common problem or “blind spot” that defines our country in regards to safety in travel and sustainability is confusion about public transit. Breaking through this blind spot are the Millennials who choose the multi-modal transit option… and also Todd Litman in “A New Transit Safety Narrative.” Basically, the point is: mass transit is safe, when compared to other travel options. It is especially safer than travel in automobiles. Many people do not realize this. In part, this is due to media exaggerating of public transit risks.

If you ride the bus, you are about 60 times safer than in an automobile in the US, according to analyst Todd Litman’s findings published recently in the Journal of Public Transportation. If you travel via commuter or intercity rail, you are about 20 times safer than in an automobile. And if you hop on the metro or light rail, you are about 30 times safer.

Considering the US, Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute explains a bit more: “Various factors contribute to this excessive fear, including the nature of transit travel, heavy media coverage of transit-related crashes and crimes, and conventional traffic safety messages that emphasize danger rather than safety.”


Many governments in other countries, even with very cold climates, focus attention on well-operating infrastructure of mass transit and protected bike lanes. Perhap, in the US, we fall short as mass attention falters when thinking outside the box of a countrywide addiction to the heavy automobile. Many well-developed countries choose mass transit as a way of life — even if they are wealthy and can afford a car. Prime examples that come to mind are Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Litman addresses and breaks through the fallacy of crime linked to transit with a multitude of well-researched sources including FBI data. As far as the danger of leaving an area of transit, he acknowledges and notes,“The greatest risks occur when passengers walk and wait in isolated areas, but these risks are no greater than what motorists encounter walking to and from isolated parking lots,” he writes.

Why is it the media do not point out the safety of bus and rail? This is a key issue that Litman addresses.

Media sensationalism preys on irrational fear. Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog advises that we bear the above chart in mind, “the next time a high-profile train crash generates more press coverage than a year’s worth of car wrecks.” Considering another widespread fear — terrorism — Litman reports that 360 times more people are killed in auto collisions than in acts or real experiences of terrorism, and that’s internationally. Litman calls it time to break free of misinformation due to inaccurate media persuasion.

One does not understand the taste or experience of a pure fresh fruit from the vine or tree if only eating only a processed imitation. Perhaps it is the same in enjoying a different lifestyle of travel. Check out this short film of a world-class transit metropolis, a city where cars are not welcome. Norman Garrick alludes to his joy of living in a mostly car-less city after spending two years in Zürich, Switzerland: “You have to really live it to appreciate it.”


Another grateful traveler in the film points out: “Part of the really cool things about living in Switzerland, especially in Zürich, you get a sense that the government really wants to do good things for the population.”

The media and our government need to pay attention to this film and mature their information and support. There could be more support for the comfort and safety of mass transit.

Unfortunately, the US is behind in a number of regards here. An earlier CleanTechnica post informs us that US tax code rewards automobile use, not mass transit or bicycling. So many countries are ahead of the US in understanding the viability, enjoyment, and practicality of mass transit — not to mention the value of sustainability for the planet. We must catch up and realize that public transportation & mass transit are keys to smart cities.

Related Stories:

2.7 Billion+ Trips Taken On Public Transportation In 2nd Quarter

Improving & Increasing Mass Transit With Wi-Fi

Millennials Continue To Shun Car Ownership

Spatial Mismatch — Sprawl & Poor Transit Further Unemployment

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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

  • Wayne Williamson

    Very cool video….Thanks!

  • Just simply to lower carbon emissions fast, public transportation improvements and ridership increase is the only way to go for densely populated areas. It’s going to take too long to replace cars and trucks with low emissions vehicles to reverse climate change acceleration. We’re going to lose another year to address transportation emissions with gasoline at $2.00 a gallon (in Chicago). My gasoline is chiefly refined Alberta tar sands from BP Whiting, Citgo Lemont and Exxonmobil Joliet. All these refineries are huge and equipment for heavy crude. Crude that is being piped down to the Midwest regardless of Keystone XL northern half.

    With more people riding a system and more resources applied for safety, more people will partake in public transportation. And the cycle will continue. How this is done I haven’t a clue. Fortunately, Chicago has been spending many millions on CTA electric lines improvements over the past ten years. Ridership is increasing and safety is improving.

    • Larmion

      When asked why people do or don’t take public transport, safety is fairly low on their list. Most cited arguments are cost, speed, convenience and flexibility.

      Public transport already has excellent safety compared to a car, yet its market share is low almost everywhere. Clearly, public transport needs a different marketing message.

      Investment in marketing/rebranding is necessary (buses in particular still struggle with a reputation for being ‘underclass’ or ‘for the poor’), as is a more flexible service that runs later at night and more frequently during the day. And comfort of course.

      Too few transport operators cite the ‘fun’ aspect of public transport in their marketing: you can play games on your phone, read a book, meet strangers or even hook up if you’ve got ‘game’ 😉

      That would be a welcome counter-narrative to the traditional responsibility-based arguments for public transport (it’s cheap, green, safe) that are rather boring.

      • You’re right. It is fun. The positive is important. Especially when so many people like to futz with smartphones these days.

        I always take the CTA to get into the city during business hours. Driving is only one cost. Parking is pretty much $25 bucks. Then there’s blood pressure elevation. Even city street parking, if any exists, has been outsourced to a private company and that’s always at least $10 bucks and more.

        Chicago is doing a feasibility study to extend the CTA blue line (direct west line) past 10 miles from the loop (Forest Park) and take it 20 miles to Oak Brook. Whether that happens or not is anyone’s guess. The blue line also goes up to the airport O’Hare. It’s safety is OK and getting better given travelers going into the loop. Also, the line goes through the biggest hipster and yuppie area (Wicker Park/Bucktown) so safety is important.

  • globi

    Zurich is not bad as far as public transportation is concerned but cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam are far more bicycle friendly.
    Also, Zurich is actually not that car unfriendly, it offers plenty of relatively fast rat runs in case the belt highway circumventing Zurich is blocked up.

  • Shiggity

    Also at 9, wind turbines and solar panels coming to murder your family in their sleep.

  • Marion Meads

    Did it include fatalities on your way to the buses, such as getting ran over on your way there, getting mugged and left for dead, pushed into the path of the bus or train, or even dying in the bus caused by other criminals riding with you?

    • David in Bushwick

      Ohhhhhhhhhh, Marion….

    • globi

      This is what the article says:
      As far as the danger of leaving an area of transit, he acknowledges and
      notes,“The greatest risks occur when passengers walk and wait in
      isolated areas, but these risks are no greater than what motorists
      encounter walking to and from isolated parking lots,” he writes.

      • Marion Meads

        you still forgot to include getting victimized by other passengers inside the bus or train. One of our hosted students swore that she’d never ride the bus again after homeless guy tried to grope her. Is this no greater risk than driving herself to school? Who are the other people that would grope her in the car?

        • I’ve ridden buses almost my whole life, and I’ve never witnessed this. Sure, it happens, and people also jump into the backseats of cars at red lights, but let’s not overblow it.

          Furthermore, on public transit, there are generally people around who will help prevent such situations simply via their presence.

        • globi

          I didn’t write this article – I just read it.
          I was using public transportation alone when I was 8 years old already. Somehow I was just able to avoid sitting next to odd people. (Helicopter parents didn’t exist when I was growing up.)

          • cynthia shahan

            Thank you globi

        • Joseph Dubeau

          You can get grope by gay cab drivers in Taipei.

          • Larmion

            Are they handsome?

          • Joseph Dubeau

            I prefer the women there.

    • cynthia shahan

      Yes, all of this information is in the PDF report.

    • No way

      You really need to try public transport in a first world country. 🙂

      • Marion Meads

        And you will get first world rapid spread of diseases in a crowded subway. The terrorist’s dream of mass slaughter also comes to mind.

        • No way

          Now you’re just trolling. 🙂

          • David in Bushwick

            Can’t be.

        • cynthia shahan

          Stirring up this discussion of fear — my goodness, it seems Marion; your posts are what Todd Litman is addressing. I traveled with babe in arms and snugly through the public transit of the third world for two months once, and we only thrived. It was coming back to cars and the US that made me sad for a time. As far as fear of germs and disease, perhaps my three decades of study and practice of holistic medicine has me less fearful of germs than some. I am most concerned with keeping my immune system strong from the inside. This is a key issue in health. Certainly I don’t want exposed to toxic environmental factors the likes of what attack us all the time the awful smell of gas. Still — It is the strength and the ‘terrain’ of our immune system that protects us.

        • Joseph Dubeau

          “The terrorist’s dream of mass slaughter also comes to mind.”
          What movies do you watch?

        • Matt

          See Marion you are the perfect example of someone with distorted view of the risks you face.

      • Exactly.

        • Marion Meads

          We have witnessed this first hand, on a few occassions from where we lived and we had students. Happened in Sacramento to our students and to my kids, more so in downtown Fresno, much more in downtown San Francisco, and even much more in LA.

          I have a daughter in San Francisco on the night shift work, and she’s scared of riding the public transit during the off-peak times after encountering with unruly people riding the buses at that time. She was scared for her life.

          Many homeless people have mental problems in the US but we can’t risk being the victim of such statistics.

          It is okay if you are a “slave” employee working th 8-4 peak of the typical working class, you will have excellent and safer transportation.

          But if you are struggling, or an entrepreneur plying the unholy hours, be prepared to meet unholy people in public transit.

    • Larmion

      What a horrible planet you live on. I’m fortunate enough to live on earth, where train and bus stations are generally as safe as the city they reside in.

      • Marion Meads

        Try getting a ride from downtown Sacramento using their LRT system after 9:00 pm. Our student got the scare of her life and never wanted to ride the LRT again.

        • Whatever happened to that libertarian island Peter Thiel was planning?

      • JamesWimberley

        Generally so, but it also depends on the demographics. Long-distance buses are used more by poor people, while rail (heavy and light) attracts all classes. Thought experiment: two mentally ill homeless men start harassing and groping passengers, one in Washington Union Station, the other in the NY Port Authority bus terminal. How long will it take police and social services to deal with the problem in the two locations? A single phone call from a well-connected Amtrak passenger gets results. There’s nobody like him in the bus station.

        Marion’s fearful reaction is misplaced but interesting, as it’s certainly shared by many bourgeois Americans, perhaps especially women. Public transport = poor people = dangerous THEM.

        Note the improvement in security everywhere created by the mobile phone camera. It’s almost impossible to get away with visibly delinquent behaviour now in a bus without getting filmed.

      • cynthia shahan


    • Marion, Marion… look at the quote from @globi:disqus

      • Marion Meads
        • Offgridman

          Yes a prime example of the sensationalist media stories discussed in the article, I guess that you believe all of the alien invasion and Elvis lives stories from the National Enquirer too.
          Perhaps if it was such an issue for your daughter or the students staying with you self defense classes were never considered?
          For all of your complaints about the homeless mentally ill you do realize that it is your own fault. If not for all of the support for cutting taxes there would still be programs to see that the people with mental health issues would still be properly cared for and so not be out on the streets.
          It is rather humorous that we have libertarians all in support of a world where everyone has to take care of themselves and then start crying because it means that they also have to take care of their own problems.

        • Larmion

          Every place where people congregate is a potential target. Tall buildings, underground car parks, schools, theaters and even crowded highways have all been targeted by terrorists.

          There is no reason to assume that public transport is more dangerous than other forms of public transport, and anyway the number of people killed through terrorism is vastly outnumbered by the toll taken by traffic.

          Out of all the things you should worry about in your life, terrorism should be very, very low on your list. Especially if you live in Sacramento 😉

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