The National Academies

TCRP Synthesis J-07/Topic SB-39 [Active (Synthesis)]

Improving Transit Customer Perception of Personal Security
[ TCRP J-07 (Synthesis of Information Related to Transit Practices) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $55,000
Staff Responsibility: Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Research Agency: Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Principal Investigator: Joan Hudson
Effective Date: 11/14/2023
Comments: Active
Fiscal Year: 2022




In August 2022, Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) released the findings from a global study, Changing Patterns of Violence Pose New Challenges for Public Transport, that found growing violence against passengers and staff on passenger trains, at train stations, a on buses, and at bus stations. Brian Michael Jenkins writes: “The behavior is contributing to a sense of insecurity. A public fearful of traveling adds to economic difficulties for transportation operators and reduced resources for facilities improvements, service, and security. The fact there are fewer riders may contribute even further to a sense of insecurity…”

Passengers may feel exacerbated by the increased number of homeless people using transit. People who are homeless often use public transit vehicles or facilities as shelters to stay out of the weather and to be safe. For various reasons, many transit passengers do not feel comfortable around people who are homeless, especially if these people have mental health or substance abuse issues (TCRP Synthesis 121).

Los Angeles Metro (“Metro”) reports that in their customer survey, rail riders list homelessness as one of the top issues they want the agency to address. (See Metro’s blog. The Source). Metro has been working to solve the homelessness issue since 2017 when its Board of Directors approved Metro’s first Homeless Outreach Plan. However, since the problem is so complex, there is a public perception that Metro is not doing enough.

New York’s MTA Subway Safety Plan (2022) recognizes that crime and homelessness are major issues for the subway system in New York and outlines a three-part plan that will transition people living in subway stations into permanent housing. This plan, also dubbed “Cops, Camera and Care,” will add NYPD and MTA officers, the installation of additional security cameras and intervention teams that help the homeless and mentally ill in the stations while protecting the transit customers. The MTA believes this plan will reduce all types of crime, will make the system safer, and attract more riders.

Other agencies are also struggling with the perception of customers about how they handle issues of crime and homelessness, among others. Some try to improve their customer’s perception by creating customer experience programs that endeavor to improve customer satisfaction, attract ridership, and improve morale. Since safety is a significant concern of riders, the customer experience includes outreach to the homeless population.


This Synthesis will document the current practices transit systems use to improve customer perception of personal security. The report will highlight the following: the strategies that are being used to increase customer perception of  security on transit; whether the strategies are successful; how these strategies are communicated to the public; and the associated change in customers’ perceptions.

Information To Be Gathered shall include (not an exhaustive list):

  • Drivers of perceptions- what are they?
  • Different strategies, for example: external partneships for addressing issues of homelessness, mental health, drug use; customer experience officers, ambassadors,technology, etc.
  • Specific strategies for vulnerable populations.
  •  Difference in strategies in a ten year period (2015-2024).
  • Identify communication strategies to inform and educate the community
  • Monitoring and measuring the outcomes or impacts of strategies

Information will be gathered by:

  • A literature review (e.g. agency reports, peer reviewed journal articles, web articles, agency websites)
  • A survey on a broad range of North American transit agencies (diverse in terms of   geography, socioeconomics, size, and all types of vehicles in transit revenue service); and
  • At least five case examples that will gather information on the practices, challenges, and successes.  Case examples should focus on different strategies. One case example should focus on an rural setting.


Bell, L., Beltran, G., Berry, E., Calhoun, D., Hankins, T., and Hester, L. (2018, September 19). Public Transit and Social Responsibility: Homelessness (Leadership APTA). APTA. Retrieved October 8, 2020, from https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/Transit_Responses_Homeless/REPORT-2018-LeadershipAPTA-Team-4-Public-Transit-and-Social-Responsibility.pdf.

Herring, C. (2019, September 5). Complaint-oriented Policing: Regulating Homelessness in Public Space. American Sociological Review, 84(5), 769–800. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122419872671.

Jenkins, Brian M. and Butterworth, Bruce ( 2022).  Mineta Transportation Institute  Changing Patterns of Violence Pose New Challenges to Public Surface Transportation in the United States, SJSU Research Foundation.

LA Metro’s blog 2022. The Source https://thesource.metro.net/2022/10/31/our-approach-to-the-issue-of-homeless-riders-on-the-metro-system/

Loukaitou-Sideris, A., Wasserman, J. L, Caro, R., & Ding, H. (2021). Transit Agency Responses to Homelessness. UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/5bv157b5

Loukaitou-Sideris, A., Wasserman, J. L, Caro, R., & Ding, H. (2021). Homelessness in Transit Environments Volume II: Transit Agency Strategies and Responses. UCLA: Institute of Transportation Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/87b0v8cr

Loukaitou-Sideris, A., Wasserman, J. L, Ding, H., & Caro, R. (2021). Homelessness in Transit Environments: Survey Findings. UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. http://dx.doi.org/10.17610/T6PC83 Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3wx1q2v4

Loukaitou-Sideris, A., Wasserman, J. L, Caro, R., & Ding, H. (2020). Homelessness in Transit Environments Volume I: Findings from a Survey of Public Transit Operators. UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/55d481p8

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2016. TCRP Synthesis 121 Transit Agency Practices in Interacting with People Who Are Homeless. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/23450

NY MTA Subway Safety Plan https://www.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/press-releases/2022/the-subway-safety-plan.pdf

Wasserman, J. L, Caro, R., Loukaitou-Sideris, A., & Ding, H. (2021). The Extent of Homelessness on Transit: What We Know. UC Office of the President: University of California Institute of Transportation Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/0694z502

Weinstein, Aaron (2022). Diverse strategies in customer experience programs across North America help increase ridership, improve morale Mass Transit Magazine.

Meeting Dates

First Meeting (Topic Panel): September 14, 2023

Second Meeting (Topic Panel and Consultant): December 7, 2023

Topic Panel

Curtis Boyd, Pittsburgh Regional Transit

Amanda Denham, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System

Samantha Dubay, HDR

LaTonya Hargrave, Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority

Theresa M. Impastato, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

Stephanie Paiz, Rio Metro RTD

James Rubin, TransPro Consulting

Michael J Smith, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority

Patrick S. Walsh, Lane Transit District



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