Statement on Importance of Transparent Bus Shelters for Women’s Safety

TTC Bus Shelter, Toronto, Canada

(Photo credit: “TTC Bus Shelter, Toronto, Canada“, by A Dawn is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

In 1988 and 1989, METRAC partnered with the Toronto Transit Commission and Toronto Police Services to improve women’s safety through an extensive Safety Audit of Toronto’s subway system and some surface bus routes. This partnership led to the development of 63 recommendations and 86 guidelines, detailed in the 1989 “Moving Forward: Making Transit Safer for Women” report.

Guidelines A-42, A-71 and A-73 of the report stipulate that transit shelters must be built with transparent materials, allowing for natural surveillance in and out of shelters from top to bottom. Transparent transit shelters have since become a best practice standard across the Greater Toronto Area as well as in other municipalities around Canada and the world. Our city has been a leader in safety-enhancing infrastructure for public transit users.

As such, METRAC is concerned that the May 2014 Street Furniture Program Agreement decision to allow advertising to cover shelters poses a risk to women’s safety, as well as the safety of other transit users at higher risk of sexual assault and harassment (City Council Meeting, item CC51.8). The change to the agreement will allow transit shelter sides to be covered up to 65% and transit shelter roofs to be covered up to 100%.

METRAC continues to encourage community members and decision-makers to consider the risks of gender-based violence and how we can work together to prevent sexual assault and harassment in public spaces. Read below for further background on the need for and benefits of transparent bus shelters.

Relevant studies and guidelines

METRAC’s (1989) Moving Forward: Making Transit Safer for Women states the importance clear sightlines and lighting on public transit to assist creating a safer environment.

  • Guideline A-7: the walls of a shelter should have the transparency of glass, ideally from floor to ceiling.
  • Guideline A-72: if there needs to be a partition midway up the walls of a shelter, it should be transparent to not interfere with sightlines of passengers sitting in the shelter.
  • Guideline A-73: placement of advertising, telephones and stairways should not interfere with sightlines in and out of shelters.
  • Guideline A-75: lighting levels outside shelters should be improved to ensure proper visibility at night.

American Public Transportation Association (2010) states that transit shelters are often one of the first points of contact for passengers when accessing public transit. The design of transit waiting areas that enhance security plays a significant role in a person’s decision to use transit (p. 3).

Brennan (2011) reports that 58% of Canadians feel less safe when using or waiting for public transit at night, especially women. Fully transparent shelters help to ease these fears.

Vibrant Streets: Toronto’s Coordinated Street Furniture Program Design and Policy Guidelines states that street furniture and its placement must consider visibility and sightlines, lighting, barrier-free accessibility and ingress/egress issues as they relate to women, children and others at high risk (RE Millward + Associates, 2013).

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) is an internationally-recognized crime prevention strategy. Among other principles, it stipulates natural surveillance of public spaces and unobstructed sightlines.

The APTA (2010) states there should be 360-degree visibility in and around bus shelters. Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. (2004) say there should be “clear visibility of, through, and around the bus stop for both passenger surveillance of environment and for police surveillance” (p. 77).

Many transit agencies have paid advertising on transit shelters, but advertising panels can limit views in and around a bus stop and reduce incidental surveillance from passing traffic (Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, 2011).


American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Bus stop design and placement security considerations Washington, DC: APTA, June 26, 2010.

Brennan, S. “Canadians perceptions of personal safety and crime 2009.” In Juristat
Article December 1, Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 85-002-X, 2011.

Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. Bus stop safety and design guidelines, Orange
County: Orange County Transportation Authority, March 2004.

Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. Toolkit for the assessment of bus stop
accessibility and safety. Washington: Easter Seals Project ACTION, August 2011.

Millward, R.E. Associates Ltd. Vibrant streets: Toronto’s coordinated street furniture program design and policy guidelines, 2006.

Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC).
Moving forward: Making transit safer for women. Toronto: Toronto Transit Commission, 1989.