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Poisoning Public Transport

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I’ve seen several headlines about two Delta Airlines employees ambushed by a gang of teens while riding Atlanta’s commuter rail.

Borepatch, an expert in computer security, sees the incident in those terms:

Security types call this a "Resource Poisoning" attack, where something that was previously valued and trusted becomes worthless because of abuse.

Crime need not be actualized for resource poisoning to occur. If the environment feels unsafe, people choose not to take the trip.

The Hiawatha Line in the Twin Cities has certainly not been crime-free. But since transit authorities use ridership as their measure of success, there’s a disincentive against making problems widely known. Alerts may be posted at stations, but the general voting public only hears how wonderful the system is working.

The rail environment is more conducive to criminals. The driver is essentially separate from the passenger compartment—sometimes three cars away. Whatever calming authority he might project on a bus does not extend down a trainset.

Outside of prime commuting hours, the cars are large and mostly empty. It is easy for the predator-to-victim ratio to swing against the good guys.

Similar effects have been suffered on another form of alternate transport in the Metro. The Midtown Greenway, a bike trail set in an isolated and abandoned rail bed, has provided criminals with easy targets. A non-governmental advocacy group has rmade these issues more widely known.

Crimes on public transport are not uncommon. Most happen on buses, because that’s where the vast majority of people are. Outside peak hours, alternative transportation modes are more inviting to criminals. But in a personal auto, the probability of becoming a victim approaches zero.

Planners fail to account for resource poisoning in their communal transport schemes.