Innovative Solutions Award Winner: Safety & Security - Bay Area Rapid Transit District (San Francisco, Calif.)/ELERTS
Harassment in public transportation is pervasive and remains one of the most difficult issues to deal with. According to a San Jose State University report on “Crime and Harassment On Public Transportation,” 63% of respondents to a survey reported being harassed. These incidents caused the respondents to limit their use of public transportation.
The report also uncovered that very few of the people that experienced sexual harassment reported it.
To combat this issue on their system, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) teamed with ELERTS for a program that combined low-tech and high-tech communication, which engages the public and empowers them to discreetly and safely interrupt harassment on trains.
'Not One More Girl'
With the launch of Phase II of their “Not One More Girl” campaign, BART began handing out wallet-sized “We Got You” cards. One card comes in green, which says “You Got Me?” Slipped to another passenger, this serves as a silent signal to notify them that you are being harassed. A second, orange card is passed back which says, “I got you.”
The use of the cards lets the victim know that they are not alone and that others are aware of the situation. The card instructs the person witnessing the behavior to not engage the bad actor and to only speak to the victim. It also plainly tells the victim that help is available and that the person seeing the behavior can contact the police.
The high-tech part of the solution is the reporting instructions that provide silent methods to contact BART Police by using the BART Watch app or text-a-tip service provided by ELERTS.
The silent reporting is essential as the person reporting the issue is likely near the offender and unable to report via voice call for fear of being overheard.
“Before our initiative, BART had no baseline data measuring sexual harassment on our system. Like many transit agencies, we knew harassment took place, but we didn’t have a strategy to address it,” explains Alicia Trost, chief communications officer at BART. “We let the fear of taking on such a pervasive and sensitive topic, and the fear of saying the wrong thing, prevent us from communicating about it.”
Trost says the agency overcame that fear when the Alliance for Girls, an Oakland-based membership association of girls-serving organizations, presented BART with a report that outlined the lived experiences of local youth. The report outlined how girls and gender-expansive youth of color frequently feel unsafe on public transit due to harassment.
“They asked us if we had a plan to address this safety issue,” she says. “BART embraced the opportunity to take the topic head on and to move the work forward with a commitment to center youth in addressing gender-based violence and reimagining safety. The result was the first community-informed and driven sexual harassment awareness campaign for public transportation that included art, cultural strategy, policy change, and youth leadership.”
ELERTS' High-Tech Solution
The ELERTS See Say® communication platform is a crowdsourced incident reporting system that empowers transit riders to discreetly submit concerns in real time to transit authorities. The system is easily adjustable to accommodate new campaigns or initiatives. The See Say mobile app has a pull-down menu of Report Types that can be updated to support whatever campaign or initiative the transit agency wishes to promote. For example, Human Trafficking, Rail Safety, or Vulnerable Persons.
“Often, people are in close proximity to the incidents they are reporting on,” Ed English, CEO at ELERTS. “The See Say app, aka BART Watch app, allows riders to type a quick narrative about what is going on, or submit a photo or video clip along with the geo-location of the incident being reported.”
If a person wants to send in a photo, the camera flash on their mobile phone is automatically disabled as an added safety feature. The See Say® communication platform also uses geo-location to integrate with AVL and GTFS-RT, so as soon as a report is submitted, the control center knows which vehicle an incident is taking place on.
One innovation of the ELERTS system that was adjusted for a specific purpose is Attention Engine and Voice from Above. With this solution, when a code of conduct violation is reported, nearby CCTV cameras and speaker horns are identified and become proactive assets. Being able to view a nearby camera and issue an audible command to a code of conduct violator enables contactless mitigation.
“By communicating remotely, issues can be resolved without a physical response,” says English. “This provides a safer interaction and also serves as a force multiplier by mitigating issues without a physical response.”
Seeing True Results
Trost explains that according to rider survey data, the initiative is helping reduce harassment and improve the perception of safety on BART.
“BART began collecting ongoing rider data about harassment, and the percentage of riders answering they have experienced harassment in the last six months has gone from a high of 12% during the period covering January to June 2021 to now seven percent to nine percent, depending on the quarter,” she says.
BART also conducted surveys to measure the impact of the Not One More Girl campaign. An online survey among randomly selected BART riders showed the effort raised awareness about sexual harassment and what to do if it occurs and it made people feel safer when riding BART.
According to that survey:
- 65% responded they are more aware of sexual harassment/gender-based violence.
- 59% responded they now know what to do if they witness harassment/gender-based violence on BART.
- 52% responded they know more about how sexual harassment/gender-based violence impacts girls, transgender, and gender non-conforming people on BART.
- 46% responded they know where to get help if they experience sexual harassment/gender-based violence on BART.
- 36% responded they felt safer riding BART.
Surveys that were provided at in-person Not One More Girl pop-up events in 2021, had even higher scores with 43% of respondents feeling safer riding BART after learning about the initiative.
BART has also added the new reporting category, “Unwanted sexual harassment (non-criminal)” to the BART Watch app powered by ELERTS in March 2021. To date, dozens of sexual harassment incidents have been reported through the app. Many provided enough information to have officers immediately dispatched to check on the situation.
“ELERTS is very excited and honored to receive this award and to be recognized for working innovatively with BART to deliver a much-needed solution for their riders,” says English. “Crowdsourced incident reporting is a tool that every transit agency should be using to enhance safety and customer experience.”
“BART is thrilled to be recognized for our groundbreaking Not One More Girl initiative, and we hope the award will inspire other transit agencies to follow the model we established with community partners, local youth, and cultural strategists to address sexual harassment and gender-based violence on transit,” adds Trost. “Our efforts can be easily replicated and will have a profound impact on changing cultural norms and encouraging safe bystander intervention and policy changes within transit agencies.”