Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery affecting victims worldwide, including in the U.S. Traffickers use all modes of transportation to conduct their activities and often use public transit due to its low cost, greater anonymity in buying fare cards, and less direct interaction with government or transit officials, according to the FTA, which launched its Human Trafficking Awareness and Public Safety Initiative earlier this year.

Busing on the Lookout:
Polaris Project:
South West Transit Association:

For the past six years, Kristen Joyner, executive director of the South West Transit Association, has been working to raise public transit industry awareness about human trafficking by providing resources and training opportunities. Joyner was selected to represent the transit sector on U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao's Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking, a role she was appointed to in October 2018.
Joyner says there are many ways the transit industry can  help prevent human trafficking:

1. First and foremost, every transit agency, no matter the size or geographic location, can be committed to training every employee within the agency and to use comprehensive training that is survivor-informed.

The most effective way to do this is to have the management team, with transit board support, to create policy and protocols that allow frontline employees — the eyes and ears of the community — the opportunity to see something and say something. Never ask an employee to step in and “rescue.” Do ask employees to report suspicious behavior based on red flags, the same way they are already doing with packages or unruly passenger behavior.

All reporting of human trafficking incidents need to go to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888) 373-7888, or to 911 if there is eminent danger.

2. We are rolling billboards. What better way to provide awareness and prevention messaging for the public and messages of hope and a way out for someone who is victimized. Agencies can commit to being part of the solution by using space to message. There are plenty of free resources, Joyner says.

3. Agencies can sign the Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking pledge and a proclamation. The Kansas Public Transit Association developed and signed a proclamation in November 2017 ( urging all Kansas transits to become educated about human trafficking and slavery.

4. Agencies can and should partner with local law enforcement and agencies providing care to victims and survivors. Dallas Area Rapid Transit partnered with local law enforcement, and an organization called Children at Risk, to provide a bus tour along the route of known sex trafficking locations in the Dallas area, Joyner explains. "The bus tour is for elected officials and business leaders to see first-hand that human trafficking is happening and there is something that can be done. Along the route are stops educating neighborhoods, children, and adults about the red flags and how to report."

5. Agencies can connect with business partners like ELERTS who provides a human trafficking reporting app for the public and employees. (ELERTS was used to unravel a forced-begging operation at rail stations. Babies were drugged and passed around by women, like a prop. The women were forced to beg using these “props.”)

6. Agencies can get connected with their state DOT’s and state attorney general’s offices. Most have a human trafficking division, Joyner says.

7. Provide free monthly passes on transit systems for survivors of human trafficking. This can be done through a local provider of survivor services who can keep track of the passes and provide documentation. The passes will help these survivors get to health services, education, and job opportunities.

8. Consider hiring survivors. The transit industry has jobs. By working with a local provider of survivor services, you can identify those who might be a good fit.

9. Simply care. What you see and report may save someone’s life.

Red Flag Indicators of Human Trafficking

  • Passengers who are not allowed to speak for self.
  • Passengers who are not in possession of their own bus/rail pass, money, or ID.
  • Disheveled appearance, agitated, scared/crying, or showing signs of abuse.
  • Minors traveling without adult supervision.
  • Minors traveling during the school day.
  • Offers to exchange sex for a ride, meal, etc.
  • Does not know the person who purchased their bus/rail pass or is meeting them at the stop.
  • Any acknowledgement of having a pimp or needing to make a quota.
  • An individual who indicates they are being held against their will.
  • Signs of branding or tattooing (often of a trafficker’s name or nickname).
  • Individuals who work excessively long hours and are provided few or no breaks and/or who have indicated their employer is withholding pay.
  • Signs of bedding in odd locations (i.e. back room of a convenience store).