Women across Sydney have for years voiced safety concerns while travelling on public transport at night. Three organisations have come together to try to combat this problem. Greater Sydney Women’s Safety Charter, Committee for Sydney and Transport for NSW will begin trialing technological methods to improve the safety of women travelling on public transport at night.
The trial comes out from the Transport for NSW’s initiative called “Safety After Dark Innovation Challenge”, which aims to find of ways using data to help inform decisions to help women feel safer when travelling at night.
Andrew Constance, Minister for Transport, announced this week the ideas from the challenge will be developed and tested over the next six months.
“We want all our customers to feel safe on the network,” he said in a statement. “It’s not good enough that nine out of 10 Australian women experience harassment on the street and modify their behaviour in response.”
The main department responsible for the challenge – Future Transport Digital Accelerator, has the aim of identifying opportunities for entrepreneurs and start-ups to build a partnership with Transport NSW.
Stephanie Salter is the Director of Future Transport Digital Accelerator, and previously worked at ABC Television implementing innovation and digital solutions.
She noted that data from Plan International showed that transport was one of the reasons why women felt unsafe traveling at night in the city. A nationwide survey launched in 2016 revealed one third of young Australian women aged 15-19 reported avoiding public places after dark, and 23 percent believed it wasn’t safe to travel alone on public transport.
“When you’ve got really good data and insights, it can really help better inform our decision making,” Salter said. “If we understand how and when people feel unsafe, we can build solutions that better meet those needs and better meet the needs of women in particular as they’re travelling at night.”
Salter’s team at Future Transport Digital Accelerator brainstormed a range of ideas and solutions across a myriad of industries, including deep technology, targeted interventions, education and social sciences.
This year saw 44 applicants apply for the challenge. The winners came from across the state, including University of Wollongong, She’s a Crowd (a data sharing platform based in Sydney) and a collaboration between UNSW and engineering and global infrastructure firm Cardno.
Yan Qian, a PhD student from the University of Wollongong, came up with a winning idea which uses an algorithm that allows a camera to detect an occurrence and then notify a human operator, via a signal or alert, for them to check if something is going on.
Qian specialises in computer vision (a subfield of artificial intelligence) and said she hates walking in the dark using public transport, and often feels unsafe.
“I take my keys in my hands or I call my friends and I pretend I’m just busy,” she said in a statement. “I think it’s a vital issue for equality that we’re still facing in the 21st century, which is not fair because every woman should have the right to just feel safe to move around.”
Over at Cardno, the Transport Planner, Elizabeth Muscat got her team to develop an index to quantify passive surveillance that would give women the opportunity to make better informed choices on the routes they take.
“Maybe [women] would choose to take a route that offers them a higher level of passive surveillance, or meaning that a lot more people would be around or businesses would be open, lighting is improved in that location,” she said.
“The outcomes are positive for communities as a whole. We will see restaurants, councils, and local businesses benefit because providing women with the knowledge of areas that have higher passive surveillance invites them to more freely participate in the community at night.”
Cardno’s partnership with UNSW involves a project where they are developing a passive surveillance index for city streets, hoping to improve the real and perceived safety for women after dark, in public transport environments.
Linh Truong, Business Leader of Transport at Cardno, is leading the Safety After Dark initiative project and believes that the challenge with safety after dark for women is the real threat of crime, and the psychological fear due to the perception of danger.
Linh’s team is set to develop a “passive surveillance index” using data-driven localised mapping to provide information to women. “Passive surveillance is essential in a transit environment after dark because it reduces opportunities for crimes against women to occur,” Linh said in a statement. “At the same time, passive surveillance improves the perception of personal safety which means you feel safer.”
The index has the potential to become a powerful tool for future town planning decisions to improve after-dark safety protocols.