Do we feel confident enough to trust our gut in uncomfortable situations?
A story ran recently about a woman in the Western Cape potentially avoiding getting into a taxi filled with gang-
members who had just committed a robbery. Having hailed the taxi & observed that it was filled with only men, she felt that the situation was out of the ordinary & refused to enter the vehicle. What followed was a physical assault by the taxi driver upon the woman for ‘wasting his time’.
Most of us use public transport on a daily basis. In Cape Town, we are fortunate enough to have a variety of choices, but despite this, there remains uncertainty about personal safety & security while using buses, taxis & trains.
What safety tips do you regularly employ when using public transport?
Very little practical advice seems to exist online for public transport users in South Africa – even our regular ‘go-to’ site for safety tips (Crime Hub by ISS) has no accessible & valuable resources for helping you make sure your daily commute is as safe as possible. If resources are out there, they’re not easy very easy to find.
So why not add to these resources ourselves? We will be on the look-out for regular tips & advice by commuters for staying safe while using public transport.
Advice such as that offered by a commenter, Sisi, on the above news article inspired a look at how we can learn from others to help make our commutes more secure. Having also hailed a taxi which seemed suspicious & had no women present, the commenter offered an excuse to the taxi driver after feigning ignorance about where the taxi was going. When he stated that he was on his way to Cape Town, she claimed to be going elsewhere.
For those of us who are less experienced at picking up on unusual situations or who are too caught up in ourselves to notice potential danger, it can be helpful to listen to the real-life experiences of others who use public transport in South Africa.
Some tips picked up thus far include:
• If you don’t feel comfortable getting into a taxi & fear that showing this discomfort may cause you to be in danger (as it did with the woman in the article), then attempt to defuse the situation by having an unrelated reason for not being able to board (forgotten bag, different destination, feeling sick, etc.)
• Don’t feel that you are being impolite not getting into a taxi, bus or train you do not feel safe in.
• If you can, try to travel with other people you know regularly.
• If you regularly travel after dark, attempt to befriend other commuters who may regularly use public transport at the same time (likely you do this anyway, but if you’re a bit of a loner like I am, do your best to get out of that shell!).
• Taxis get really crowded, so pickpocketing may be common (although pickpockets probably have their arms pinned to themselves while squashed in with the rest of us!). Just keep an eye on your belongings & be responsible enough to know what you’ve taken in with you.
• If taking Taxis is new to you, don’t be THAT newbie by showing your paranoia & acting out of place. Also, being too quick with accusations of other passengers is unpleasant & I once witnessed a passenger cause embarrassment by claiming her phone was missing (she’d actually lost it in her bag).
• Police have sometimes alerted exchange students & tourists about the dangers of being kidnapped or robbed by taxi drivers. Though there have been well-known cases of this happening, do not let this frighten you. It is unlikely to happen, but they have warned that people, particularly women, avoid being the last person on the taxi, particularly at night.
• Know where you’re going. People are usually very helpful, so you will get lots of advice from fellow passengers or the taxi staff (driver & doorman or ‘gaatjie’), it always helps to avoid alerting potential robbers or pickpockets that you are unfamiliar with the territory & mode of transport. If you are unsure where you’re going, try to take somebody with you whom you trust.
• DON’T rush the driver if you are running late for something. Speeding taxis cause severe road accidents & countless tragedies.
All Modes of Transport:
• This should go without saying, but don’t haul out wads of cash while paying for your fare.
• Don’t wear very expensive brand-name clothing, particularly if you have a long or secluded walk from your taxi-stop to your destination.
• Don’t antagonise commuters, taxi personnel or people on the street. I don’t know why people would do this, but I’ve seen it myself, and apart from causing people to merely dislike you, fights may break out.
• Wear practical shoes if you can, as apart from being comfortable, they make you more capable of dealing with potential threat when walking to and from the taxi/bus/train stop. Carry the pretty shoes in your bag.
• Speaking of bags, also try not to carry too many as they can be tough to squeeze onto a taxi & you may forget how many you have on you.
• Remember to be alert while listening to music or reading while commuting.
• Don’t commute while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• One may get regular advances from passengers (particularly male) claiming to be irresistibly attracted to you, so learn to be firmly polite but do not encourage flattery. If you are genuinely interested in the person, take their number, do not give them yours, and make contact (in a safe space) later. Too many tragic experiences have been encountered by vulnerable people (women & men) meeting strangers while commuting.
• Seek contact with other passengers if the person will not stop harassing you and if they still persist, be very firm & or approach the driver or a member of security (e.g. on trains & buses).
• Try to locate the most populated bus stops to wait at, in less isolated areas.
• Personally, I find buses to be among the most comfortable & safe modes of transport, but they run less regularly, particularly around midday. Ensure that where you wait, in case your wait is very long, at a safe spot.
• If you don’t feel safe while on the bus, move closer to the bus driver and, if necessary, make contact with her/him.
• If you feel that the bus driver is driving recklessly, let them know this and, if necessary, report them.
• Try to get to know the bus timetable before traveling – at least learn whether they go once per hour, per half hour, etc.
• As with buses, get to know the timetable, as you could have a long wait at a secluded station. Usually, security staff are available, but not always.
• When going under subways, ensure that there are a variety of other commuters using the subway with you. If it is just you and one or two others you do not feel comfortable with, then do the uncomfortable thing & go around (i.e. cross a nearby bridge).
• Quiet train stations can be ideal places for muggings, so keep alert while walking to and from the station. Once again, wear comfortable shoes & see if there are houses or shops nearby to go to if you feel threatened.
• Find a busy carriage to sit on and avoid being alone one a carriage. For some reason, possibly because of the seclusion of the carriages, predatory/creepy figures appear more prevalent on trains. This may only be personal experience talking, however. Seek out other people to sit near in any case.
• Trains are good places for pickpockets to strike, particularly when they get crowded. Keep your belongings close & your pockets empty.
• Leaving the station & walking through the taxi ranks, be sure to walk confidently & not be intimidated by groups of people who may attempt to tease or harass you. Once again, get to know certain regular figures in the area (e.g. shopkeepers, other commuters, etc.) so that if you do feel you are in trouble, you have people to turn to for assistance quickly.
• Even escalators in train stations can be easy robbery spots. Don’t be complacent while using them, as valuables are easily grabbed by robbers going in the opposite direction.
• Don’t let paranoia make you stand out or cause you to be careless. Act like you own the place.
- Use trusted, branded cabs.
- Ensure they have seat belts & use them.
- Don’t take the cab if you feel the driver may have been drinking or too tired to drive.
- If traveling alone & you feel unsafe, there are plenty of cab companies you can call up & order a cab from, rather than using one off the street.
- Once you find a cab driver you really like & trust, try to get his/her company card & request him/her if you can.
My Citi Bus
- Beware of dying of old age while taking the central bus route via Long St.