Using Data to Improve Women's Safety in Cities, Transport

Safetipin maps safety in urban public spaces so women know where they can go without fear.
Safetipin maps safety in urban public spaces so women know where they can go without fear.

By Kalpana Viswanath

The Safetipin app maps safe public areas for urban women so they can make safer decisions, and provides city stakeholders data to improve safety in public spaces and transport.

There is an oft-quoted line of Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, that “A good city is one where the rich use public transport, not where everyone aspires to own private transport”. Over the past few years, cities are increasingly recognizing that improving public transport facilities is key to enhancing the quality of life of people in cities. Overburdened roads have become a feature of cities, especially in the developing world. You see the same situation whether you are travelling in Manila or Dhaka.

Improving and expanding public transport is an important aspect of urban development. Cities have become the vehicle of growth of most countries, and today we see an increasing population in urban centers. In 2014, 54% percent of the world’s population lived in cities, and this is predicted to increase to 66% by 2050. In this scenario, city governments need to improve transport infrastructure and safety.

Safety on public transport, especially for women and girls, has become a visible issue in the past few years. Many cities such as Delhi and Mexico have introduced women-only carriages in the metro system while cities such as Seoul have encouraged women cab drivers. Studies show that women face sexual harassment while using public transport and while waiting at transport stops. Women’s mobility in cities is very strongly affected by perception of safety. They often make decisions to not go to a place or not take certain kinds of jobs based on the feeling of safety. Thus the lack of safety has repercussions which go well beyond the acts of violence.

In order to address these issues, safety audit methodology has been used to identify key problems and seek solutions. Safety audit is a methodology of assessing public spaces that has been used in more than 40 cities around the world. More recently, we have developed an app called Safetipin in India which takes this methodology, and has transformed it into a technology tool. Safetipin measures nine parameters including lighting, openness, visibility, security, and public transport. The audit, which can be crowdsourced, generates a pin which is visible on the app. Based on safety audits conducted, a safety score of an area is generated for people to see and use for making safer decisions. The free app that can be downloaded and used in any city in the world. So far data have been collected in over 20 cities in India and globally. The data are visible on the app and can help people make safer decisions about moving around. Data are also shared with city stakeholders to help them improve safety of cities by pointing out deficiencies and problems in public spaces.

While Safetipin is used to understand safety in public spaces, it has been used to conduct studies that specifically focus on public transport in the city of Delhi, and this can be replicated in other cities around the world. In one study, 275 bus stops in the city were mapped to measure the safety score, and these were shared with the Transport Department. The data found that 44% of bus stops had an average score between 2-3.5 out of 5. But the data also showed that 40% of the stops had poor lighting. Improving street lighting was then was given as a recommendation to the concerned stakeholders. It is very important for bus stops to be safe as women often wait there even after dark.

One of the key issues that has been identified through safety audits has been the last mile connectivity. It is often possible to reach a metro station or bus stop, but care has to be given to the last mile from this hub to the final destination. Safetipin has been used to do safety audits and identify key issues to address to improve last mile connectivity. In one study of 17 major stations in Delhi, some of the key issues identified were poor para-transit facilities, inadequate infrastructure—including lighting and paths for walking and waiting—and lack of security.

Safetipin can be used as a tool in cities across the world to map safety in public spaces. The information helps women make safer decisions, while also providing data for city stakeholders to improve safety in public spaces. The fact that the Sustainable Development Goals include a goal on creating inclusive public spaces shows that this has become an important aspect of urban life. Inclusive and safe public spaces promote democracy and citizenship.