Transport projects and the potential impact on crime

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ImageTransport projects typically do not include the reduction of crime and violence as an objective, but it could be a collateral benefit from investments in certain equipment and services also meant to improve the operational efficiency of a transport system.   One example of this is the case of CPTM, the State suburban rail system for the São Paulo Metropolitan Region which carries almost 2 million passengers per day.   CPTM was created in 1992 from Federal and State of São Paulo entities and has made significant improvements in the level and quality of rail services in this time.  The World Bank has supported CPTM with various lending operations in this period to finance the modernization of stations, integration terminals, systems, and the rail fleet.  In particular, a World Bank loan helped finance the modernization of communications and control systems including a new Operations Control Center (OCC) at the Brás Integration Terminal (both pictured below).   

ImageBy 2005/2006, the OCC integrated many monitoring and response functions in one location and connected thousands of personnel and equipment throughout CPTM’s 6-line, 270-km system (including more than 800 closed-circuit cameras).  While the primary purpose of the OCC and related systems is to improve operational performance of services in terms of safety, reliability and speed, it is also used to monitor incidents on CPTM’s trains and in more than 80 stations.  A camera or alarm system that is used to monitor for overcrowding at platforms or malfunctioning doors may also be useful to prevent fare evasion or robberies, and vice versa.

ImageCPTM has reported a marked reduction in the number of incidents (including robberies, assaults, accidents and self-inflicted injuries) on its trains and stations in recent years.  In terms of robberies, CPTM counted 133 cases in 2004, 91 in 2005, 40 in 2006, and this figure has continued to decline.  While it is difficult to attribute the security improvements to any one particular measure, it is clear that the combination of investments in technologies and a well-trained and equipped staff has yielded very good results both for operational efficiency and security.   Since 2004, CPTM has also intensified investments in security personnel on surveillance platforms or on patrol, some armed and with trained dogs.  Currently, CPTM has more than 1,500 cameras and 2000 security-related staff (see photo below).  Investments have also been made to empower the railway users.  For example, they can call or send an SMS directly to a security hotline tied to the OCC to report any suspicious activity or crime.  Cameras can help validate such information.

ImageThe question of whether transport interventions can actually reduce crime is further complicated by other variables.  For example, in the case of CPTM, one would wonder how many of the robberies were actually reduced or simply displaced to other areas outside the trains or stations.  There can be also significant differences between what is reported and what actually occurs.  These and other questions are being carefully weighed as the World Bank is initiating a study to look at the potential impact of transport and other infrastructure investments on crime and violence.

Along with targeted investments in technologies and staff, a security strategy may also intersect with maintenance and repair practices for a transport system under what is referred to as the “broken window” effect.  It has been observed that a poorly maintained system or public space is more likely to attract a disproportionate amount of crime or disorderly conduct because it appears to be more tolerated or it is more difficult to detect.  One example of a strategy that takes this into consideration is illustrated by the change in the New York City Subway maintenance and security practices in the 1990s, when relatively minor offenses and aesthetic issues such as loitering, graffiti, and fare evasion began to be vigorously controlled.  This strategy worked in changing the overall image of the system for the better.

In sum, the perception of security or insecurity drives many behaviors.  There are many examples of public transport projects being resisted by neighborhood groups for fear that the passenger traffic may increase crime or bring “trouble-makers” to the area.  This is one of the alleged reasons why a station in the historic and upscale neighborhood of Georgetown in Washington DC was not included in the subway system when it was being planned decades ago.  Perceived security is not just an issue for railways, but also for other forms of transport.  There is anecdotal evidence from some Latin American cities that the vast majority of users of bikeways are men, perhaps because women do not feel comfortable or safe using this mode of transport.

World Bank projects which supported CPTM:

Photos by Georges Darido


Georges Darido

Lead Urban Transport Specialist, World Bank

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