Violence against New York City bus and subway workers is up 29% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Los Angeles, assaults on bus and train drivers have risen 24% since 2021. And in Minneapolis, crime on public transportation is up 66% in the first quarter of 2023 alone.
These are just three locations, but the numbers make it clear transit systems across the U.S. are facing a continuing surge in criminal activity. It’s difficult timing for cities still working hard to bring ridership numbers back to pre-pandemic levels.
Fortunately, modern surveillance technology has given transportation officials new ways to improve security at bus depots, train stations, and other public locations.
Today’s cameras are smarter than ever, and many municipalities may already have access to advanced audio and video analytics capabilities that can be used to both enhance the rider experience and improve their ability to detect and respond to security incidents.
For cities seeking to reverse the trend of rising crime and falling ridership, leveraging those tools will be important.
Improving Crime Detection and Response
Given the spike in crime, security is obviously foremost on the minds of transportation officials at the moment. Most public areas, including train stations and bus terminals, have surveillance cameras of some kind monitoring the area.
In the past, those devices were primarily used to review forensic evidence after the fact — but today’s devices can be used in a much more proactive manner.
Certain analytics can detect suspicious activity, such as loitering or aggressive behavior, and others can even detect the presence of a weapon. Audio analytics can also be used to detect things like raised voices, breaking glass, or gunshots. When such activity is detected, an alert can be sent to the appropriate security personnel immediately, allowing them to respond in real time to an incident in progress.
The ability to automatically detect when an individual is engaged in illegal (or inappropriate) activity within a public transportation terminal can help security personnel address those problems more effectively. By identifying individuals who have been present in a station for an abnormally long period of time, or who appear to be intoxicated or otherwise impaired, security teams can remove them from the premises — and get them the help they need — before their behavior escalates to harassing passengers or disrupting operations.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — and surveillance cameras are becoming increasingly useful as proactive and preventative security devices.
Improving the Passenger Experience
While surveillance cameras are traditionally thought of as security devices, it’s important to note that they can be used in other ways as well.
For cities looking to draw riders back to buses and trains, improving the passenger experience is critical. One way transportation systems are doing just that is by using analytics to provide passengers with real-time updates on important, ever-changing factors like platform congestion and estimated wait times. That information can be pushed to traveler apps to show how busy certain platforms are, allowing passengers to make an informed decision on whether to wait for the next train.
Many riders are still reluctant to return to crowded spaces, and these updates can help them plan their travel around lower-traffic times.
Simply put, if a camera can see it, a specialized algorithm can analyze it. This can help a great deal with keeping subway stations and bus terminals clean.
Video analytics can be trained to track how often trash is removed, or whether a trash can is overflowing. They can be trained to recognize a cleaning crew’s cart and track when that crew arrives and leaves, allowing transportation officials to gauge whether their work is being done regularly or efficiently.
Certain analytics can even look for signs of wear or listen for banging, rattling, or other signs that maintenance may be needed. This can make trains and buses safer — with the added benefit of reducing repair costs by making preventative maintenance easy. Analytics can even be used to observe above-ground stations during a storm, letting officials know when conditions are unsafe or if snow removal may be necessary.
Prioritizing Safety, Security, and Convenience
Amid rising crime rates, public transportation security is a significant concern for today’s cities — but it’s important to remember that bringing riders back to trains, subways, and buses is about more than just making passengers feel safe.
Fortunately, the same technologies now being leveraged to improve security at bus depots, train stations, and other locations can also be used to improve the passenger experience, adding new conveniences and providing passengers with new reasons to return.