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"How can I stay safe while using public transportation?"

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

Dear Self Defense for the People,

I work at a startup in San Francisco, and have developed the habit of using Uber or Lyft to get to and from work. The thing is — I can't afford to continue spending so much on ride sharing! It just adds up, and the normal costs of living in the city are already awful.

I've been thinking of going back to using Muni, like what I used to do when I first moved to the Bay Area, but all the news I've been hearing about people getting attacked on the bus or on BART freaks me out.

What are some tips I can use to stay safe while using public transportation, especially with how insane it is in the city nowadays?




Dear Uberscared,

First of all, I'd like to commend you for taking an interest in your safety. Over the last year, there have been many, many, many incidents of being attacked on public transportation in San Francisco, so this topic is indeed a very relevant one.

I grew up here in San Francisco, and even as a kid, I knew that there were certain Muni lines that didn't feel right. (You know I'm talking about you, T line!) At any given day, you wouldn't know if you'd be facing mentally ill people, gang members, or even just bullies at school.

Situational awareness
Situational awareness is critical.

My main advice is: stay hyper-vigilant, especially if you know you're in a rough neighborhood, dark bus stop, or shady bus line. Situational awareness will keep you out of trouble for most situations.

Make sure to leave your headphones off so you can hear the presence of other people. You don't want anyone creeping up on you on the bus or at the stop. Your jams aren't as important as your life.

Make sure you are aware of who is near you at any given time, and keep a safety distance where you feel confident that a person can't reach you easily. Trust your instincts on this one. If you feel uncomfortable, get away. Find the closest open bar, restaurant, or store and stay there until it's closer to the bus's estimated arrival time. You can download the NextBus App to figure out when to emerge.

If someone does engage with you, speak politely but firmly while your try to end the interaction. Have your hands up in front of you, speaking with your hands in a casual, but soothing manner. Your hands should be unencumbered or ready in case you need to push them and run away.

While on the bus, don't sit at the back! The best places to sit or stand are near the driver (though drivers get assaulted too, they are the ones with the most authority and experience on the vehicle).

Try to avoid staying too close to the middle or back exits either, as those are perfect locations for your bag, phone, or wallet to be snatched. Don't sit in the inner seat — always go for an aisle seat, when available. If the person sitting next to you gets aggressive, you do not want to be boxed in! You want Want to add a caption to this image? Click the Settings icon. an escape route in all cases. Just stand up and let a person sit in the inner seat, or if you feel uneasy with the person near your, casually stand up and move away to a safer area.

If you are worried about the items you are carrying, always keep your bag in front of you and securely connected to you.

My final piece of advice is a less grim one: don't let fear keep you from living your life responsibly! San Francisco is pricey, and you'd be saving a lot by taking public transportation. Most people will ride the Muni or BART on any given day without any incident, and you can be one of them. Just do everything you can to avoid any potentially dangerous situations by being aware of your surroundings.

Be safe and have a great day.


Self Defense for the People

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