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Center Identification Number: 416-082

Project Title: Perceptions of Transit Safety

Co-Principal Investigators: 

Francis Cleland, Research Associate

Jennifer Hardin, Research Associate


Center for Urban Transportation Research
University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida

External Project Contact:

I. Project Objective

To analyze the extent to which perceptions of transit safety impacts current customer satisfaction levels and the role it plays in the decision not to use transit among current non-users. To suggest operational improvements that can be made to improve the perceptions of safety among both users and non-users of transit.

II. Project Abstract

Perceptions of safety on transit vehicles are a common theme in surveys of both current transit users and non-users. Particularly from the non-user standpoint, however, the concept is difficult to define in order to develop concrete operational and communication-based recommendations to alleviate this perceived problem. The notion of the lack of safety can come from numerous sources - fear of violence or at least bothersome encounters at bus stops or when going to or from the bus stop, fear of these factors while on the buses, fear of accidents occurring involving the transit vehicle, or even fear of not understanding the bus routing system to the point where the passenger ends up in an unknown area, to name a few possibilities. The exact nature and scope of these perceptions, their prevalence in the rider and non-rider populations, and the role that they play in decisions among non-riders not to use transit are not well understood. This project seeks to address this area and provide concrete operational recommendations to address these perceptions.

III. Task Descriptions

The investigators will plan to use this topic as the subject of a related NCTR project, the "New Uses of Qualitative Methods for Transit Research" project. This will involve a parallel qualitative data collection effort that will provide far greater insight into the topic of perceptions of transit safety. If for any reason this does not happen, Optional task 6 will be need to be implemented and the following adjustments will be made:

  • The sample size in task 3 will be reduced to 300 surveys 
  • Task 5 will be removed from this scope as it will no longer be possible to do this within this budget.

Task 1 Review of current literature

In this task, the investigators will review previous studies on the perception of safety on transit vehicles as well as studies that have summarized actual statistics on safety-related incidents involving either transit vehicles or transit property (such as bus stops). Also, an effort will be made to coordinate with and review information from related ongoing NCTR projects on this topic.

Task 2 Focus Groups

Focus groups will be held with non-users to explore the range of safety perceptions that exist within the non-user population. Two separate focus groups will be held.

Task 3 Develop and Administer Telephone survey

Based on the findings from tasks 1 & 2, a survey will be developed to assess the prevalence of various concepts in safety perception among current non-users. A minimum of 400 surveys will be conducted

Task 4 Review of On-board survey data

A current NCTR project, "1999 Transit Customer Satisfaction Index", has collected data from numerous on-board surveys conducted across the state over the past three years. These surveys will be reviewed to examine current perceptions of transit safety and the role that safety plays in current customer satisfaction.

Task 5 Survey of current Transit Customers

A written survey of transit customers will be conducted at transfer centers in either Tampa or St. Pete. This survey will essentially parallel the survey in Task 3.

Task 6 (Optional) Qualitative follow-up with selected telephone survey respondents

Due to the complicated, and potentially sensitive, nature of this topic, qualitative interviews will be conducted to further explain some of the findings from the telephone survey. This procedure is good practice in any large questionnaire-based data collection effort, particularly so with new, complicated, and potentially sensitive topics. As noted above, this task will be unnecessary unless this project is not approved for use as a basis for the "New Uses of Qualitative Methods for Transit Research" project.

Task 7 Final report

The data collected in the initial tasks will be synthesized into a final report on current safety perceptions, the extent to which those perceptions are validated by existing operational data, the role the perceptions play in decisions to use transit services, and operational recommendations for improving perceptions of safety and potentially increasing ridership among non-users, as well as operational recommendations for improving safety on buses.

IV. Student Involvement

Graduate students will be used to assist in the literature review, preparation and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data collection steps, analyze both types of data, conduct the survey of transit customers (if this task is conducted), and prepare materials for the final report.

V. Relationship to Other Research Projects

A number of projects related to this project are currently underway or will shortly be conducted, including "Cops Cameras and Cages", "Operational Barriers to Transit Use", "1999 Transit Customer Satisfaction Index," which has a safety component, and "New Uses of Qualitative Methods for Transit Research."

VI. Technology Transfer Activities

The results of this analysis will be provided to the FDOT through a series of technical memoranda and a final report. Copies of the final report will be provided to the Research Office, the State Public Transportation Administrator, the Manager of the Transit Office and the transit systems which participated in the analyses. Information will also be made available thought the CUTR website and through presentations at local and national conferences.

VII. Potential Benefits of the Project

The benefits of the project include the development and implementation of operational improvements to both improve safety for transit users and to improve perceptions of safety among both current users and potential users of transit. This may result in increased transit ridership from non-user groups that previously did not use transit primarily due to safety concerns

VIII. TRB Keywords

Public Transit, safety, accidents


National Center for Transit Research at the Center For Urban Transportation Research University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 Tampa, FL 33620-5375 (813) 974-3120 (813) 974-5168 Comments: