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Preventing crime on transport



Specific forms of crime occurring on trains, trams and underground transport systems, buses and bus shelters, taxis, in airports and on aircraft are explored. Successful techniques employed as crime prevention measures in Australia and overseas are described. Situational crime prevention strategies, modelled on three strands of contemporary criminology (rational choice perspective, opportunity theory, and environmental criminology), are emphasised.



The authors are grateful to the following organisations and people for their contributions to this book: CityRail, New South Wales State Transit, Victorian Public Transport Commission, ACTION buses, the Queensland Taxi Guild and the Aviation Security Branch, Department of Transport and Communication were particularly cooperative and provided information generously. The Federal Aviation Authority was helpful in sending their most recent publication Criminal Acts Against Civil Aviation. Dr Ron Clarke assessed the initial bibliography suggesting additional sources. Thanks are also due to the staff of the J. V. Barry Library, summer student Nathan Harris and to Joyleen Chapman for her assistance with this publication.

Crime committed on or around public transport facilities is an increasing problem in most countries and a comprehensive international review of vandalism and graffiti on Western European, North American and British railways reflects an increase in all systems and a similarity of problems and trends (Transmark 1985).

Public transportation crime problems are not just confined to graffiti and vandalism, nor to railways. Crimes committed on buses and trains, and at airports, can range from common assault through to destructive acts of terrorism.

In this crime prevention monograph specific forms of crime occurring in four transport areas are explored: trains, trams and underground transportation systems; buses and bus shelters; taxis; and in airports and on aircraft. Though many of the transportation systems mentioned are run by private operators (such as taxis and aeroplanes) they are included in this monograph as privately-owned systems are an integral part of government strategies in moving persons from place to place in modern industrial societies.

The prevention strategies have been especially influenced by one particular theoretical approach - situational crime prevention - which is itself modelled on three strands of contemporary criminology.

In the first strand - known as the rational choice perspective - potential offenders are seen as rational and self-serving, and crime prevention measures are designed with this perspective on offenders in mind (Cornish & Clarke 1986). The second - opportunity theory - shows how offenders can easily commit crimes if there are suitable targets and an absence of guardians (Cohen & Felson 1979). The third area is environmental criminology. Criminologists have discovered that crime is often concentrated in particular 'hot spots' located in specific geographical areas and which occur at particular times (Brantingham & Brantingham 1984).

Situational crime prevention relies upon a variety of environmental design and management procedures to increase the difficulties and risks of committing crime. Many of these procedures were developed out of the three strands of contemporary criminology theory and practice briefly outlined.

However, the basic ingredient of situational crime prevention is that it aims to remove the opportunity, and make the costs of crime greater than the benefits. To do this a number of different approaches are employed: target hardening (for example, car steering column locks, passenger and baggage screening at airports); defensible space architecture, which encourages people to exercise control over public spaces and keep intruders out; crime prevention initiatives such as Neighbourhood and Rail Watch, as well as other strategies which channel potential offenders away from potential victims.

In the pages that follow some of the successful techniques that have been employed as crime prevention measures in public transportation systems are described. Often, these methods have been implemented only after other measures were found to be inadequate. Although some of the successful techniques outlined here are transferable to new settings, this is not always the case and, before such measures are introduced, testing and evaluation should be conducted along the lines outlined in the last chapter.

As cities become larger and public transportation systems grow, criminal activities will continue to pose problems for those who manage the systems of transporting people across and between cities. However, situational crime prevention provides a theoretical and practical framework for addressing the innumerable situations that arise. This booklet presents some of the crime and public nuisance problems that have arisen in public transportation systems and the various measures that have been employed to deal with them.

The scope of the problem

Fare dodging, vandalism and assault are major problems in rail transit around the world. The distribution varies: for example, in London the main crime in 1985 was theft from the person (Department of Transport 1986a); in Moscow and Tokyo vandalism and graffiti are rare (Wilson 1987); and in New York, where anti-graffiti programs have been successful, theft and assault continue to be a problem.

The first task of any crime prevention program must therefore be to analyse existing data to establish incidence patterns including type of crime, location, time and other relevant environmental variables. Unfortunately, since these offences are both under-reported and/or not collected in a systematic fashion, a preliminary step may be necessary: the implementation of a data collection system and research analysing the data to detect the patterns and highest risk areas to target in prevention. However, transit authorities often fail to conduct victimisation or pattern analysis studies to determine the exact scope of their problems before they implement remedial measures (Strauchs 1972). Due to the lack of such research or ongoing statistical collection, it is difficult to define precisely the scope of the problem. The following summary of several major offences in rail transport is therefore limited by the paucity of information available.

Fare evasion

Since many rail companies are experimenting with measures to combat this crime, it can be assumed to be a fairly common offence. However, the very nature of fare dodging makes its measurement problematic. Aside from periodic inspection by rail staff who can calculate for that day how many individuals are fare dodging, by counting how many 'slugs' have been fed into machines or turnstiles, the determination of the magnitude of these offences can only be speculative.

Vandalism and graffiti

Whilst many American cities have successfully cleaned up the graffiti on their trains, the late 1980s have witnessed its growth in Paris, Hamburg, London, some Australian cities and Scandinavia. There are similarities across cultures in the kind of harm inflicted, the age of offenders (youth) and the greater incidence of these offences in off-peak hours (Wilson 1987).

A surburban Melbourne station prior to the Victoria's Ministry of Transport massive cleanup program.


Cite article

Weiser Easteal P & Wilson P 1991. Preventing crime on transport. Crime prevention series. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://aic.gov.au/publications/crimprev/transport