Safety Apps are the Future of Reporting Incidents on Public Transport


When you see a problem for which you’ve built the perfect solution, you often get so excited you just want to shout: “Here! Come on! I could have solved your problem! I’ve got just the tool you need!” And even though these moments arise quite randomly, they always show you new ways of making use of your solution.

One of those moments happened to me last week during the three hours I had to spend on a train. What began as a pleasant trip, turned into a really annoying experience for almost everyone involved. I ended up wishing a solution similar to ours was implemented on public transport everywhere!

Question: How do you report an incident when you’re being watched by the attackers?

Actually, the ride had been quite pleasant for the first two hours or so. I brought my bicycle onboard, took a seat right next to it, and started a conversation with a man who was also travelling with a bike. After all, a shared passion is a great conversation starter.

This only lasted until two shabby looking men entered the compartment. They were obviously under influence of alcohol. When they asked me if they could sit right next to me, I said no.

Because of my reaction, they picked me as their main target. Since changing seats wasn’t an option (as my bicycle was still fixed to the wall), I had to spend the rest of the journey fencing off their verbal and well-nigh physical attacks. I only got a break when they turned their attention to some of the girls traveling in the same compartment.

The worst thing about this regrettable situation was how little we could do about it. As we saw that a direct confrontation wouldn’t help anything, we simply had to endure their unacceptable behaviour until the end.

Use a personal safety app to report incidents on public transport.

All that time I was clutching my phone in hand, thinking about how easy it would be to report the incident through a text message or an app. No risk involved. No direct confrontation. We could have solved this problem in about 5 minutes. Moreover, the solution itself is by no means futuristic and could be implemented with relative ease. Here’s why:

  1. The railway company is already interested in dealing with this kind of situations. It had signs printed all over the place, saying you can report any problems to the nearest conductor. The sign also encouraged us to call the police in case of a serious incident.
  2. Reporting an incident was the issue. During that last hour of my journey, I wasn’t lucky enough to see one. At the same time, I wouldn’t feel safe or comfortable calling the police in front of these two men. First, it would blow things way out of proportion. Second, doing so would irritate the two men even more. Third, they weren’t really breaking any law, they were simply being incredibly unpleasant. Reporting them to the conductor would certainly be the most appropriate response.
  3. Wireless network already present in every car. It wasn’t just my phone that seemed regrettably useless to me in the above situation. The wireless network in every car looked equally impotent. How easy would it be to use it be to summon help through local network, even in areas without Internet coverage?
  4. There are already similar solutions being used in some parts of the world. For instance, two years ago, Indian Railways began to use R-Mitra app to improve women’s safety on their trains. Female passengers were given a technology that allows them to call for help with a single tap. There are also similar system in place in many cities across the US as part of the See Something / Say Something anti-terrorist initiative. The list goes on.

Mobile technologies are the future of reporting incidents on public transport and beyond.

My unpleasant train ride back home shows the potential of personal safety solutions that goes way beyond using it when one’s life is in danger.

Using these technologies in new ways could even help safe lives when it will come to it. The problem is that you simply don’t encounter life threatening situations too often (fortunately). For this reason, most people don’t feel like they would need a safety app installed in their phone. However, once you widen its scope of usability (so it becomes usable even in less threatening situations), there’s a good chance you’ll have it by hand when you’ll need it.

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