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What are Some Tips for Being Safe on Public Transportation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Many people are encouraged to use public transportation as an alternative to a personal vehicle because it is cheap, efficient, and environmentally friendly. In cities with large numbers of cars, public transportation can also take much of the work out of going somewhere, because people can hop off of a bus instead of searching in vain for parking. However, public transportation can be risky, especially on routes which go through dangerous neighborhoods, or for people taking transit alone late at night. By being aware of your personal safety while on buses, trains, and subways, you can greatly reduce the risk of theft or assault.

The most important way to protect yourself on public transportation is to be aware of your surroundings. Avoid using a cell phone or another electronic device, not only because it will distract you, but also because it makes you an appealing target for thieves. Try to stay awake, especially at night, and take note of the people sitting around you and their behavior. If you feel uncomfortable, move to another seat. If you are waiting at a bus stop or station, try to stay in the light, and near a public safety officer, if one is on duty. By being alert, you can protect yourself by preventing an incident.

It is also important to be aware of your personal belongings on public transportation. Try to keep the number of bags you have to a minimum, and keep valuables and important belongings close to your body. Keep wallets zipped in internal pockets to make them more difficult to steal, and keep your bags close to you. On crowded public transportation, it can be difficult to prevent people from handling your bags, but try sticking them under the seat or between your legs to make them less accessible.

When boarding public transportation, have your pass or fare ready. This will speed up the boarding process and prevent you from having to rummage in a wallet or purse, potentially revealing money or credit cards. If you are getting on late at night, sit as close to the driver as possible, and tell the driver if you notice strange behavior or you feel uncomfortable about another passenger. When getting off, make sure that you know how to get to your destination, and keep an eye on people getting off with you. Try to avoid poorly lit areas at night, and travel with a companion on public transportation, if you can.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon339294 — On Jun 21, 2013

Another theatrical tactic: if someone's getting too close to you on the train/bus, make dry-retching noises as if you're about to vomit.

By Saraq90 — On Nov 05, 2011

I think completing at least one self-defense training is something everyone should do, especially people who have to be in shady situations on a regular basis. Showing criminals you have both mental and physical strength and courage, will sometimes be enough for some criminals to leave you alone. Also have mace and some sort of weapon like a flashlight or tazer gun seems like a great investment.

Way to go to the person who was brave enough to run after the thief who stole their purse. That story was truly awesome and inspiring! I keep a flashlight by my bed, mostly in case I need to use it as a weapon. I kind of thought this may be a silly thing to do, but after reading your post, I know it is not silly at all.

I truly feel safer just reading these posts on how many people do this day to day and how there has only been a few scary instances. Thank you everyone for giving me new found courage to ride public transportation, if I ever have to, or just want to.

By Tomislav — On Nov 04, 2011

There seem to be a lot of people who know a lot of good tactics for being as safe and aware as possible while using public transportation. Thank you all for these great tips. If I ever go to a big city and have to use public transportation, I will try to remember and use these tips.

I especially like the tip about acting crazy. What a brave and creative tactic to use! I actually have obsessive compulsive disorder, so I could probably just do some compulsive and obsessive things, and I would probably keep most people away from me!

By Esther11 — On Nov 03, 2011

@2kylee7drg - I liked your post about acting like a crazy woman to avoid harassment from the guy on the subway. That was a very clever way of handling the situation. It sounds like it really worked. I can just see him getting closer and closer to the door and then bolting out as fast as he could. Good for you!

I don't know if I would have the gumption to do that, but then again, I'll keep it in mind and might try it if I needed to. Thanks.

By Misscoco — On Nov 03, 2011

I know that it's not possible for people who have set work hours, but I try to avoid riding public transportation at night like the plague. If I was in a situation where I needed a ride at night, I would call a taxi. During the day, there are almost always people around, both at the stops and on the trains or buses.

There are instances of violence on the trains from time to time, but the chances are pretty slim that there would be that kind of trouble on any one train or bus. I think the officials try their best to keep public transportation safe.

By LisaLou — On Nov 02, 2011

For me, one of the biggest advantages of taking public transportation is that I can read or catch up on some emails while I am on the train.

The downside of this is that I am not always as aware of my surroundings as I should be. If I have my nose stuck in a book, I don't pay as much attention to those who are getting on and off the train and what people are doing around me.

I do remember hearing that you should change your route from time to time so that you are not as predictable to follow. If you are using a public transportation route, this isn't as easy to do as it would be if you were driving your car.

I seem to be better at being aware of my surroundings once I am off than train than when I am riding on it.

One thing I always do without fail is make sure my identification, money and credit cards are always on me and not in plain sight. I had a friend whose wallet was taken out of his back jeans pocket when he was riding the train.

He didn't even know it happened until many hours later. Ever since that happened, I always made sure there is no way someone has easy access to my money and credit cards.

By golf07 — On Nov 02, 2011

I have ridden the bus to and from work for many years and have had a few interesting situations, but most of the time I have not had any problems.

It is still good to be reminded about being safe, and to always be conscious of what could happen. I think what bothers me most about some of the public transportation bus routes is if I am the only person at the bus stop when it is dark outside.

Depending on what my work hours are, I am sometimes the only person waiting at the bus stop in the early morning. Even though the bus stop is lit up, I am a bit uneasy sometimes. I am reminded that there is safety in numbers and always feel better when more people show up.

Once I am on the bus, I always try to sit as close to the front as possible. If I am traveling alone, I always feel a little more secure if I am sitting close to the driver.

By runner101 — On Nov 01, 2011

I like @kylee07drg and @orangey03 tactics. I don't know if I could pull off the drama and hysterics but if my intuition was kicking in that I might be in a bad situation, I'm sure that my adrenaline would also fall right into line, and that helps in doing things that you would not or could not normally do.

However, with a combination of @kylee07drg dramatics and @orangey03's tactic of self-defense classes, you would have almost all angles covered. Your first tactic of course would be to scare the potential attacker away with acting crazy. Then the second line of defense would be to have a defense in case crazy doesn't scare away crazy.

I do not take much public bus transportation or any public transportation for that matter, as I live in a smaller area, but I appreciate the tips that people have written on this article for staying safe for when I am traveling, especially the people who wrote in stories as they give me an even better idea of what could happen.

By kylee07drg — On Oct 31, 2011

@seag47 - Yes, you do have to make yourself undesirable or even unapproachable. This is going to sound crazy, but if I feel I’m being watched by someone with bad intentions, I talk to myself. Generally, even thieves don’t like to mess with crazy women.

Once, this shady looking man was eyeballing me on the subway. So, I carried on a whole conversation with myself.

He looked taken aback, so I decided to make it more dramatic. I grabbed my ears and started saying, “No! Just stop it! Stop it!” I closed my eyes and said this a few times. When I opened them, he had moved further away from me, closer to the door.

As soon as the train stopped, he was the first to exit. I felt proud of myself, even if I had made everyone else on the train think I was insane.

By seag47 — On Oct 30, 2011

If I am about to board a subway or bus, I remove all my jewelry before I get near the station or bus stop. My wedding and engagement rings go into a box in my purse. I even remove my fake diamond earrings, because a criminal probably isn’t going to know that they aren’t the real thing.

I also strap my purse under my long coat. It’s lumpy, and I’m sure people can tell that there’s a purse under there, but at least this makes it harder to grab.

Without jewelry and a purse in sight, I’m not much of a draw to criminals. The less appealing I can make myself, the safer I feel.

By orangey03 — On Oct 30, 2011

I think the best way to stay safe is to have some knowledge of self defense tactics. I took a class last year, and I feel a lot safer now.

I know just where to jab, how to twist, and how to block an attacker. Simple things that I had no knowledge of before I can now use to my advantage.

It would also help you to know some karate. I will be enrolling in classes next spring, and I’m sure I will feel even safer after learning a few essential defense moves.

By wavy58 — On Oct 29, 2011

I carry a really heavy flashlight in my purse so that I can use it as a weapon if necessary. I work from 4 p.m. until midnight, so I have to be extra cautious when riding the bus home and walking from the bus stop to my apartment.

Whenever I get off the bus, I take my flashlight out of my purse and carry it in my hand until I get safely through my door. That way, I won’t have to dig around to find it while someone is attacking me.

I have only had to make use of it once. A man grabbed my purse and started running. When he saw me gaining on him with that huge flashlight that looks like a club in hand, he dropped my purse and fled. He could see the craziness in my eyes and the weapon held high.

By serenesurface — On Oct 28, 2011

I've been using public transportation in the DC area for several years. I haven't had any problems although there have been a few times where I felt a little nervous or scared because of an individual on the bus or train.

I think the best precaution you can take is to try to use transportation as early as possible or during times when there are a lot of people on. I feel much safer when there are more people around me and if it is before 11pm. One other thing I do is to wear my purse over my head so that it wouldn't be possible for anyone to grab and run with it.

I think if you pay attention to these things, it will be fine.

By starrynight — On Oct 28, 2011

One thing I always do if I ride public transportation is try not to look too nice. I guess you wouldn't be able to dress down if you're going to work or something, but I find that it helps me attract less attention.

If I have to ride public transit, I usually wear a pair of sweatpants and a large sweatshirt. I don't wear any makeup and don't carry a nice purse or wear nice shoes. I've found that looking unassuming works really well for me if I must take the metro.

By strawCake — On Oct 27, 2011

@Azuza - Good tip. I would hate for someone to get in trouble with the law just because they were trying to protect themselves.

One tip I wanted to add is try to vary your routes. If you take the bus too and from work, try to take a different route every few days, if possible. That way people won't start to recognize you and recognize your routine. The last thing you need is a criminal knowing where you're going to be at a certain time every single day.

By Azuza — On Oct 26, 2011

@cafe41 - I think carrying mace on your key chain is a really excellent idea. You can also get a larger size can of mace and carry it in your pocket, with your hand on it in case of trouble.

I also wanted to suggest carrying a small stun gun as a last resort. I know there are several sites on the Internet that sell stun guns and tasers that are meant to be used for self defense.

However, check your local laws first. Stun guns and tasers aren't legal in all jurisdictions. The laws may even vary within the same state!

By dfoster85 — On Oct 26, 2011

One thing that you do not have to do to stay safe is keep to yourself. All that paying attention to your surrounding can lead you to help others who might be wrestling a stroller through the doors, needing a seat because of a cane, etc. Set a civil tone and make eye contact.

By cafe41 — On Oct 25, 2011

@SauteePan -Those are good tips, but some people can’t always avoid riding a bus at night. I think that if you carry mace on a key chain for example it could help you get away from someone that is trying to harm you.

I would also walk on crowded lit streets where it would be less likely of someone harming you. You really have to also be familiar with the public transportation schedule to see if you can take an earlier bus or train in order to get to your destination.

Also, if you can partner up with a coworker and take the bus together this will also help you stay safer because when you are with someone else you become a harder target for criminals. If you still don’t feel safe you can always catch a cab, but that will be really expensive after a while.

By SauteePan — On Oct 25, 2011

I would imagine if you avoid bus rides at night and sit towards the front of the bus where you can see what is happening behind you by looking at the mirror should help to keep you safe.

I would also carry a fanny pack because this type of purse is very difficult for anyone to pull off because it is strapped to your waist. I would also have my keys in my hand rather than look for my keys when getting off of the bus.

If you wait until you get off the bus to look for your keys it can make it easier for someone to mug you because you are not paying attention to what is going on around you and criminals tend to seek victims that are easy targets. The more difficult you make it for a criminal to strike the less likely that they will.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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