KTH scientist Vania Ceccato’s research could lead to safer transit stations around the world

Getting people to use mass transit isn’t just a matter of making it convenient and cost-effective. Riders need to feel safe, too. A book by KTH researcher Vania Ceccato could make a significant contribution to improving safety in transit environments.

Stockholm, Sweden, 05-12-2013 — /EuropaWire/ — Transit stations attract and generate crime by creating concentrations of large flows of people, and recent research at KTH Royal Institute of Technology shows that the hour of day and surrounding environment are two factors that make the likelihood of trouble more predictable.

In her recent book, Moving Safely: Crime and Perceived Safety in Stockholm’s Subway Stations, Ceccato, an Associate Professor at the KTH School of Architecture and Environment, takes a closer look at the role of the physical environment in determining public safety in transit stations.

A researcher in the relationship between geography, land use and crime, Ceccato has documented crime patterns in Stockholm’s network of subway stations that could prove useful in making the city safer, as well as provide a framework for analyzing problems in other cities’ transit systems.

As it turns out, criminals’ decisions to migrate to one station or another to rob, steal or destroy property are shaped not just by physical factors, such as lighting, layout, and escape routes, but on the time of day and even the season. She also emphasizes that criminal activity in a station is affected by the social conditions and infrastructure in the surrounding neighborhood.

Contrary to common wisdom, the winter months are more violent than the summer in Stockholm’s subway, particularly in the most peripheral stations. Thefts and property crimes tend to concentrate in central stations regardless time of the year. While that might represent local quirk, other findings she has published have universal relevance.

Adding up crime trends

Global crime has gone down substantially in large parts of the world during the last two decades. Why? Is the world really becoming safer? Vania Ceccato will join a panel discussion on these questions on the next Crosstalks webcast, December 4. To watch, go to crosstalks.tv/

“For example, during peak hours, thieves look for crowded stations, because obviously that is where the victims will be,” she says. “It’s obvious, but quite tangible. During off-peak hours, larger stations see more property crime incidents. So this variation in hours combined with the environment affects the dynamics and probably the decisions that the offenders make during the day.”

Crime may seem like an unlikely problem for an urban planner to take on, but Ceccato begs to differ. “I knew that something was going on in the underground stations and it was something that bothered me for a long time,” she says. “We as urban researchers should have something to say about crime and safety in public spaces.

“I asked what kind of places are these? Is there a possibility that my knowledge could contribute?”

Transit guardians

The design and condition of transit stations influences not only the choices criminals make, but can also be a deciding factor over whether people watch out for each other.

Ceccato works closely with her PhD student, urban planner Adriaan Uittenbogaard, in examining also how the role of guardianship affects crime.

The concept of guardianship, which is Uittenbogaard’s area of research, includes both formal and informal social controls over an environment.  “It could be as simple as passengers looking around and paying attention to what is happening around them,” he says but also ”the presence of guards and CCTV cameras”.

Uittenbogaard cites research showing that one of the biggest factors behind crime in stations is the lack of guardianship.

“Our models showed that initially, having or not having hiding corners, good illumination, or people at the platform, transition areas or exits would play a role in defining different kinds of crimes,” he says. “Not having people around, for example, raises the risk for vandalism.”

ATMS are a good example. Ceccato has found that when ATMS are placed in the areas surrounding transit stations, they attract offenders looking for easy targets and increase the likelihood of violent incidents. But placing the machines inside the station, close to a ticket booth, could very likely protect users because of the increased visibility and awareness of ticket agents and other passengers.

The neighborhood ATM also underscores one of the complications of keep transit stations safe – while the station itself can be a nexus of trouble, the surrounding environment of the transit station matters too.

“You have to have a whole trip approach”, Ceccato says, “from when you step out of your door until you get to your destination, which implies that the municipality has to establish better cooperation with other actors that are responsible for transportation and safety, both in terms of planning routes, keeping pedestrian paths safe and illuminated, and engaging residents and businesses in each neighborhood to solve problems.”

David Callahan

Read Vania Ceccato’s latest book:
Moving Safely: Crime and Perceived Safety In Stockholm’s Subway Stations, 2013, by Vania Ceccato, Lexington Books.

Transit safety in focus

An international, multidisciplinary array of safety experts recently met at KTH to share state-of-the art research on safety conditions in transit environments from both theoretical and applied perspectives. The group is planning a joint publication of their papers in Security Journal. Vania Ceccato will be guest editor for the edition, titled “Safety on the move: Crime and perceived safety in transit environments”. The Special Issue  is due to be published in July 2014.

For more information, contact Vania Ceccato at vania.ceccato @ abe.kth.se, +46 (0) 87908625


Vania Ceccato's research could lead to safer transit stations around the world.

Vania Ceccato’s research could lead to safer transit stations around the world.


Comments are closed.