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Staying safe on public transport

Carlton Boyce / 04 April 2016

Keep yourself and your belongings safe with our tips for reducing the risk of crime on trains, buses and tubes.

London Underground sign
If you have to stand on the tube, try and stand with your back against a wall or dividing window as this stops anyone sneaking up behind you

We should all be doing our bit for the environment by spending more time on public transport and less time in our cars. (I know, who’d have thought you’d see a motoring journalist writing that, eh?)

However, apart from tardy timetables and shabby seating, a lot of us worry about the safety aspect of using it, especially late at night.

Undertake a risk assessment

Conventional wisdom says that you should stick to well-lit areas where there are lots of people milling about, which is advice I still endorse.

However, transport hubs, like train and bus stations, attract criminals looking to exploit tourists, so you shouldn’t feel unduly nervous if you find yourself alone in an unfamiliar village or country road because the chances of a thief or mugger hanging around in such an isolated spot on the off-chance that they might bumble into a potential victim is much reduced.

Tips to avoid pickpockets and thieves in busy shops.

Profiling potential criminals

It’s a sad fact that while most teenagers and young people are wonderful and kind human beings, the majority of criminals are under the age of 30, so if you do need help try and find someone older than that if you can.

Equally, there is no evidence to show that race or sex is a predictor of criminal behaviour, so it is pointless profiling on those characteristics, though the advice to ask someone in uniform still holds true.

Could a thief raid your bank account by simply walking past you?

Plan your journey

The most important thing you can do to reduce the risk is to plan your journey in advance. 

Numerous studies have confirmed that you are less likely to be a victim of crime if you adopt a confident, don’t-mess-with-me demeanour, something that’s hard to achieve if you’re wandering around the station trying to find out which bus or train you should be on.

Most bus and train operators have a mobile app that you can download to your Smartphone, and a lot of bus stops have a number you can text to find out when the next bus is due; both make planning your journey considerably easier and safer.

Five sure-fire signs that something is a scam.

Tell someone your plans

Tell someone where you are going and on which train or bus you intend to travel. 

If you don’t know the exact details in advance, then a text message is a quick and easy way to pass along this information.

Have your ticket or pass to hand

Keep your ticket or pass to hand in your pocket ready to show the conductor or driver. By doing this you won’t have to root around in your purse or wallet to find it, which avoids showing a thief or pickpocket what’s in there and which pocket you keep it in.

Shoppers warned about criminals operating in supermarket car parks.

Check where the emergency points are

It’s always worth identifying where the emergency exits and call points are. This gives you an immediate advantage in the event of an incident unfolding in front of you.

Sit near the driver

If you do feel vulnerable, it is always worth sitting next to the driver. This works on both a train and a bus, as potential attackers will be deterred by the fact that a member of staff – who is usually covered by a CCTV camera – is close by.

If you have to stand, then try and stand with your back against a wall or dividing window as this stops anyone sneaking up behind you. Keep your belongings to hand or, if you have to stow a suitcase, try and keep an eye on it.

Think you're above the law? 10 laws motorists often ignore or forget.

Move if you feel uncomfortable

If you hate making a fuss or upsetting anyone else, you’ll probably want to avoid confrontation by moving away, no matter how uncomfortable you feel.

This is a mistake; better to risk offending an innocent fellow traveller than to place yourself in a vulnerable position.

Stay alert

Commuters, especially in London, will sit and doze during their journey but they are intimately attuned to their environment and will be alert to the slightest change in tempo or atmosphere.

If you’re a tourist, then you should try and avoid making eye contact, but stay alert; now is not the time to check your emails or engross yourself in a book.

Is it safe to leave your mobile phone charging overnight?

In the event of an incident

In the event of an incident, you should take the following action:

  • Pull the emergency cord on a train if it is a real emergency that requires split-second attention like someone collapsing. The train will continue to the next station but staff will have been alerted and will be ready and waiting to help.

  • If it isn’t a life-and-death emergency, wait until you see a member of staff or you arrive at a station.

  • Consider calling for help using your mobile phone and never assume that someone else has raised the alarm. Wikipedia has a very useful list of international emergency telephone numbers, and it’s always worth finding out what the number is for the country you are visiting in advance.

  • Move away from any source of danger once you’ve summoned help.

  • Stay on board: you are safer on the bus or train that at the side of the road or track. The exception is if there is a fuel spill or if you are on the motorway.

  • Listen to what staff or the emergency services are telling you, and follow their instructions quickly and quietly.

  • Leave your luggage. You can always rescue it later. This is why you should always keep your wallet, purse and passport on you at all times; you can conquer the world with a credit card and a passport.

For more tips and useful information, browse our consumer rights articles.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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