Buses are un-glamorous. Slow. Inconvenient. But so darn easy and economical in comparison to most other modes of transit! Here are some bus safety tips and the (partly subconscious) things I do every day to avoid being targeted (especially as a demure sized minority female).
Public transit is a happy win-win for our wallet and the environment. The incentive to continue going car-free is there. The perk comes to a total savings of $1,500+ a year for my husband alone because his employer pre-pays for his bus fare! No pre-paid $1,500 voucher shouldn’t go to waste!
Now with that said, some city bus routes can be more dangerous than others and these are the things I tell my husband to do every day to make sure he returns home safely to me.
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Table of Contents
My Lifetime Experience
There are buses that cross over less reputable neighborhoods. Our suburban-esque residence is separated from the rest of Seattle by a bad stretch of road called Aurora. It’s both locally & historically known for being the breeding ground for hookers, druggies and the cops that follow them. We ride that line almost every day.
It is not a fun ride.
There are people you see who are truly down in the dumps. The other day, I sat next to a woman who’s angry, unstable conversation on the phone aired to the entire bus that she was likely going to lose custody of her children because she’s “using” again (I didn’t catch all of it, I was blasting heavy metal to drown it out).
The snippets I did catch was when she shouted at the top of her lungs. It was really awkward to have everyone stare over with critical and/or pitiful gazes.
The main bus line that connects us to everything in Seattle is a state-of-the-art new bus system that is timed like clockwork for every arrival between 10 to 15 minutes. It sounds amazing (and it is a nicely implemented) but during mid-day, that bus line is a super smelly gem. Summer has hit and there is enough sweaty B.O. that makes me wonder how the drivers handle these work conditions.
Despite the new state-of-the-art buses, the Aurora line is known locally as “the ride on the ferry to Hades” thanks to the high number of vagrants and a cohort of very run-down people who ride that route.
I’ve lived in San Francisco a large portion of my life. San Francisco is a pedestrian and car-less paradise…as well as the hobo capital of the world, probably. I don’t have a sensitive stomach to public buses because I grew up around the ghetto. I don’t claim to know it all but eh, I don’t think I’m off by much.
Bus knife fight? Seen it.
Bus phone theft? Seen it.
Grown adults kicking in the bus door just because they couldn’t make it in time before the doors closed? Oh, yes.
The vast majority (like 99%) of bus rides are uneventful and I feel safe; compare to traffic and vehicle accidents, I think it’s about even between a public bus and a personal vehicle.
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17 Practical Bus Riding Safety Tips
1. Use Your Resting B*tch Face
Do you not have an RBF? Maybe cultivate a small one. If they smell friendliness or naivety then you might have yourself a problem – or at least a very awkward conversation that will end in you being asked to “spare a couple of dollars” for a druggie or alcoholic for good measure. Happened to me a few times – not on the bus exactly but at the bus stops. Much less now that I started practicing my RBF. You have to be mindful of your surrounding at the bus stop just like on the bus.
I rather “spare” my dollars to the reading club at the public library, thank you very much.
2. Zen Mode
Is that man sitting 2 seats away from you screaming profanities to himself? Well, he’s actually not because you’re ignoring him. You are in zen mode. Your headphones are on (either pretending to listen or drowning out all else.)
3. No Eye Contact
If they don’t exist – there’s no need for eye contact. You see where I’m going with this? For the love of God, don’t make eye contact. I know it’s inhumane to ignore people but I was not born to save the world. I just need to get from point A to point B.
4. Do Not Wear Logos
Do you work for a locally despised tech giant that is even-handedly pushing affordability out the window? Has your employer been accused of pushing those on the cusps of homelessness, into homelessness? Yeah, awkward.
Does your company make so much money that they can shower their lucky employees with corporate swag with their logo stamped on everything? The swag Hubby gets is actually nicer than our own stuff.
On to my point: hide the logos. It’s going to be like putting a bull-eye on yourself. Stealth wealth is here to stay. If you want to go extreme, Hubby keeps his hands folded over his chest sometimes during the entire bus ride because that’s where the logo on his shirt is.
5. Pretend You Don’t Speak English
This one works pretty well if you can keep a poker face and know another language. I did all the time when I was a high schooler taking community college classes on the bad side of San Francisco. A shirtless man once came up to me and asked me if he could borrow my cellphone to call his girlfriend. Yes, of course, random shirtless man in the street – of course, I’ll let you use my cellphone to call whoever you want.
I responded to in Mandarin “我不懂英文” – I don’t speak English. He didn’t believe me but I kept at it and fiend ignorance. Eventually, he slinked away.
Which brings me to the next point...
6. Hold on Tight to Your Phone
Your smartphone is worth a pretty penny to desperadoes on their last dollar. If it’s an iPhone, you’re probably holding at least $500 in your hand. Imagine that. Just a stack of cash in your hand or next to your head – along with a lot of personal information and PayPal/credit card linked mobile accounts! It’s a goldmine.
I’m not sure why people are so freaking surprised when their phone gets jacked. Do not display an incredibly expensive gadget loosely in your hand or distracted on the bus! Logic!
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7. Watch The Load You’re Carrying
OK if you’re carrying something big in a crowded bus and there’s already a disgruntled person near you – that might cause some trouble. I’ve seen this happen, but just once.
A man who looked to be some sort of mountaineering expert was carrying a huge load of camping and climbing gear. He swung around and naturally his bag went with him. It knocked the already disgruntled guy behind him who instantly took it as a chance to defend himself and instigated a fight. Mountain man didn’t back up or hold off, he was just surprised. There was some shoving back and forth. The man who instigated the fight was kicked off the bus on the next stop but mountain man stuck on, although not without looking completely embarrassed.
8. Mind Your Surroundings
I’m really bad at this because I’m team drown everything out. Don’t be like me. Mind your surroundings! There are 2 exits on a standard bus. There are sometimes 3 exits on a long bus. Sitting near the exits seems like a natural thing to do to feel safe but might not always the case because the perpetrator wants a quick and fast getaway themselves. If it’s a crowded bus then watch those nearest to you.
A few years ago, a classmate of mine had her phone stolen. Two other high school-aged guys just came up and swiped the phone from her hands. They immediately jumped up and OUT the bus window WHILE the bus was moving. I mean…wow the stupidity…this is what I mean by desperate people. They’re small-time petty criminals in the making.
9. Do Not Leave Anything Under Your Seat (Thinking You’ll Remember It)
Uh, yeah, basically what I just said. It’s not a life-threatening thing but I’ve lost a good few umbrellas thinking I would remember them.
10. Do Not Leave Wallets Exposed in an Unzipped Bag
2 months ago, I had my pretty neon pink handbag wide open and surprise, surprise my wallet went missing after I got off the crowded bus on Aurora. I had seen it just 3 minutes before and poof, stolen!
Needless to say, I was asking for it. I’ll admit to that. Goodbye wallet with my SS card, ID card and $250 in gift cards. Sigh :(!
11. Don’t Carry a Bright Pink Bag
Oh is this specific? My bag was also a bright neon pink too. Talk about attention catching. What in the world was I thinking…
12. The Bus Driver is Here to Help (Even If They Appear Standoff-ish)
They have to help you so don’t be shy. It’s their job and everything is tracked so you can give feedback anytime. There are unique bus ID numbers and each driver is clocked in at that bus, at that route, at that time. You don’t even need to know the bus ID number, just call the city operator with the number of the bus (like 45 or 3), direction and time. They can track it from there, easy peasy. I didn’t know this until 6 months ago, I wish I did before. More people should.
Honestly, public transportation workers are not going to win any service awards. In fact, most of them seem to hate their life. Especially the transit workers in San Francisco. I have never seen so much attitude and misery concentrated in an occupation before. Everyone has a chip on their shoulder. I would think it’s a pretty cushy government job!
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13. Carry Personal Protection
Pepper spray is not a good idea. Someone on the bus I was on sprayed pepper spray (not sure at what or who) and everyone around in the crowded bus got a dose of it. Poor innocent bystanders. We had to evacuate. It’s potent stuff. I think a mini taser is better or at least a whistle.
14. Don’t Stand Out
I see some people sitting down on the bus and they use their hands to brush away invisible dirt. Yo, it’s the bus, you’re not wiping anything away. That seat has housed a million butts and it will house yours the same. Some people put newspapers down and sit on the newspaper instead. That just makes you seem like a total snob. Are you too good to ride the dirty bus with the rest of us dirty animals? Haha.
15. Have Patience
Remember the zen thing? You’re still doing that!
Sometimes I see women with baby strollers…oh my…the extreme awkwardness that comes with trying to push a jumbo stroller filled with the screaming baby onto the bus using the handicap ramp with several other onlookers and bystanders waiting right behind and then blocking the main walkway on the bus some more before the bus driver could come over and push up the seats to make room for the stroller…now do it all over again on the way off the bus.
Have patience. We plan to live car-free as long as we can before we conjure up a baby. Buses and babies do not mix. I would freak out if a stranger reached out to touch my baby (which has happened before and the look on the mom’s faces was a mixture of total horror and false politeness.) I don’t blame them. Don’t touch other people’s kids, man. Another tip should be if you don’t want any trouble to keep your hands to yourself.
16. Buddy System
This is pretty popular for new riders who have never really been on the bus alone. There is definitely safety in numbers.
Sorry to be lame but I do feel safer with my husband around to hold. He’s this 6-foot tall guy and that’s probably more threatening in contrast to something like me.
17. Mommy Bonus Tip!
Miss Tarynkay’s ace-in-the-hole mommy & bus advice: if you have to ride the bus with a baby, put the baby in a sling. People aren’t as likely to get up in the baby’s face if the baby’s face is in your chest. Also, it’s much easier to maneuver without a stroller.
My friend has one of those baby slings and it was so expensive ($80 for fabric?) but she has used it for everything including transportation making it a frugal and wise choice.
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It’s Not That Bad
It’s not that bad! 🙂 Or else I wouldn’t be a huge supporter for riding public transit! How many things in this life are win-wins? Bus safety and neighborhood concerns are largely dependent on geographic location but it’s always a frugal & convenient amenity to have around.
My leaning towards living in more dangerous neighborhoods is probably a lot worse than what you will experience.
An overwhelmingly large portion of bus riders keep to themselves and nothing bad really happens even in the worst of it. I know these tips work because I’ve seen and been the guinea pig on occasional of what happens when we’re not watching out for our surroundings.
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