Are Melbourne’s trains really getting safer?

Offences on NYC's subway have fallen

A new report on the safety of Melbourne’s trains says they are getting safer. Reported offences fell from 45 per million passenger boardings in 2005-06 to 33 in 2008-09. That’s a phenomenal 27% reduction.

The report, titled Personal Safety and Security on the Metropolitan Train System, was prepared by the Victorian Auditor General and released publicly on 9 June 2010, shortly after a mob attacked a train at McKinnon station.

While the statistics look good, the report also says that passenger’s perceptions of safety on trains nevertheless got worse over the same period and are significantly lower than for trams and buses. Passengers feel reasonably safe during daylight hours but markedly less safe at night, not only in trains but also on stations and in car parks.

An initial observation is that 33 offences per million boardings is actually not that good. For example, crime is much lower on the New York City subway (see chart -shows absolute numbers), which carries ten million passengers on an average work day. The Boston rail system carries 350 million passengers per year with only 2.2 crimes per million boardings.

But what I want to look at is the puzzling matter of why passengers feel less safe on Melbourne’s trains even though crime is apparently falling.

Disappointingly, the Auditor General’s report doesn’t seek to explain why they are out of kilter. The implication seems to be that passenger’s perceptions are irrational and shaped by the media. Read the rest of this entry »