By: Ekkehard Streit - CC BY 2.0
By: Ekkehard StreitCC BY 2.0

The days are finally getting longer here in the Northern Hemisphere, but you might still find yourself commuting in the dark for a few weeks yet. Or maybe you’re a public transit regular who uses the bus to get home after a night out. Let’s talk about safety when you take the bus after dark…

Know the schedule

Don’t get to a stop earlier than you need to. If you miss a bus, have a back-up plan before hand so you know where you can go (a 7/11? an all-night gym?) quickly and safely so you can make other arrangements (or just wait for the next bus).

Reader Sara also advised us of a useful app if you’re in the Seattle, Atlanta, New York, or Tampa area: One Bus Away gives you real-time transit information on your phone. Lots of municipalities offer similar apps, so make sure to check to see if yours does, too.

Signal the driver

Reader Cass had this tip:

General tip if you’re bussing in the dark (early morning or evening): to make sure the bus driver sees you, turn on the flashlight in your phone as the bus approaches to indicate you are there.

This is one of the tips the city bus drivers give here, since so many make their commute during dark hours.

And while I don’t expect you to add reflective tape to your outfits, visibility while walking to and from your stop at night is important. Keeping a flashlight or your phone’s flashlight on can help you be seen by oncoming cars, too.

Let the driver know this is your commute

If you will be a regular on this bus, let the driver know. Chances are they will be your driver regularly, too. This can help avoid the bus driving past your stop three minutes ahead of schedule when the driver thinks no one is going to be there.

Make use of courtesy stops

Many public transit operations will offer courtesy stops — stops between regular stops — after dark. Ask the driver if it’s possible to be let off closer to your destination so that you don’t have as far to walk.

Wait until you get on the bus to pop your headphones on

Headphones limit your awareness of your surroundings. When the streets are deserted, this becomes much more critical to your personal safety. My strategy is to have my headphones on, but not have any music playing. I can still hear, but I look… shall I say… less approachable for unwanted discourse. Oh, and don’t get too distracted by your phone. You don’t have to be paranoid, but you should be vigilant.

Let someone know what your schedule is

If it’s your regular commute, let your employer or a friend or family member know what bus you usually take, which stop you wait at, and what time you wait. If you’re leaving someplace late at night, text someone to let them know you’re waiting for a the number whatever bus at this stop. If nothing else, it can give you (and your loved one) peace of mind.

What other tricks and apps do you know about to help you safely make your dark-time commutes?

Comments on Safely taking the bus at night

  1. I think a good tip (and one that I wish I had used), and this is mostly for introverts or anxiety-ridden folk: don’t be afraid to approach the bus driver if you are uncomfortable with, or scared of, someone on the bus. Two different times I’ve had guys stare at me and jerk off, while riding the bus. Both times I was quite young, and too scared to move or do anything. The second time, I made a promise to myself to mention something to the bus driver if the guy made a move to get out at my stop (it was also quite late). Ugh. Thanks for these tips!

    • Remember when you were little, and you learned that people in uniforms (like bus drivers, police officers, security guards, etc.) were helpers and grownups you can trust? Honestly, same rule applies as an adult. They’re the people that can help you when things get sketchy. I’ve had no hesitations about asking for an escort to my car in a remote parking lot/garage, or the security guard of a nearby building to watch while I wait for a bus.

  2. In grad school, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be walking home alone at nearly midnight after a late class on a very empty street. I would call my long-distance boyfriend with my earbud/mic combo in, leaving one earbud out, and just tell him where I was in relation to my commute. No conversation, just things like “crossing this intersection” and “turning here now.” If something happened, he would hear and know nearly precisely where I was.

    If you do this, the important thing is not to be having a full conversation (it makes you more distracted and actually calls attention to you/your electronics).

    When my commute utilized a lot of public transit, a simple text with a “getting on this bus/just got off the metro at this stop” was also a good way for him to know where I was. My roomie and I would also give each other heads up about what time we should be expected home, and would check in with one another if that changed.

    Bottom line: commuting home on public transit as a single woman at night shouldn’t be a scary thing. Use common sense, keep alert, and don’t be afraid to admit that a situation is uncomfortable. Trust your gut: if you feel like a situation is sketchy, don’t talk yourself into staying there. Have an alternative (even if it means calling a cab or a friend to come get you).

    • Totally this.

      My former roommate and I had (have) a steadfast rule that someone should always know exactly where you are. She’d send me a quick “working late should be done by 11” text followed by a quick “caught the 11:20 bus home” followed by a “just got off the bus. home in 5” text. That way if she wasn’t home in 5 I’d know something was up. I’d do the same thing to her when I was traveling after dark – which happened a lot since I worked as a bartender for most of my 20s.

      We still do this for bigger things even though we live states away from eachother. I occasionally get a “I’m going to Charelettesville for an Ikea run. I just want someone knows where I am” text.

    • I used to do this too! Also might be a little overload (i tend to be paranoid), but if I ever felt like someone was following me, staring at me, or made me in anyway uncomfortable, I would describe them to whoever I was talking to on the phone just in case something happened.

    • I always let someone know where I’m going and when I expect to be there and when I’m expected home — and who I’m WITH if that’s the case. Even when I’m leaving work early, I’ll say to a coworker – “I’m headed home but I should be back online in an hour” so in the event something happens, someone KNOWS where I was and when I’m expected. Its also why I call my fiance when I’m leaving work – so he knows when to expect me. I drive, but even if I’m going into the city alone and taking public transit at night.

      I think its not only courtesy to others but it was also drilled into me as a teenager by my mom (Especially when I was with friends who had started driving) that someone should ALWAYS know where you are going and when you’re expected home.

      Sorry, that was long.

  3. Great tips. I take the bus every day and have for the past 10 years. Up until a few weeks ago I lived near a very busy bus line. The bust stop closest to our house was a major hub for several lines and was always well lit and full of people. Due to all the light and foot traffic I never felt uneasy.

    However, recently our rent went up causing my family and I to move. We bought a house in a new neighborhood. One that has a number of vacant lots and boarded up houses. When we first moved I used the stop closest to our new house. This stop always sent off my spidey senses — the street light was broken, I was always the only person at the stop, it was infront of a vacant building and an overgrown empty lot. After about a week I just couldn’t do it anymore – I knew standing alone in the dark was a recipe for trouble. After looking over the bus maps I discovered if I just walked 2 blocks in the other direction I could take a different bus line to work. It didn’t go directly to my office but it got me within 5 blocks. Instead of in a creepy dark corner this new bus stop was infront of a large elementary school and preschool. It was well lit and their is always teachers, parents or students waiting at the bus stop.

    So I guess my only tip is to review the bus maps well. If one stop doesn’t feel safe their may be another option.

  4. These are all good tips. In my experience, the visibility thing is extra important in more suburban areas where you, as a transit user/pedestrian are definitely in the minority. I’ve started wearing a white scarf with my “professional” black winter coat because my winter walk home from the bus is in the dark and past a couple of mall entrances with no traffic lights. The white scarf makes me visible to drivers who are not expecting anyone to be on foot.

  5. Nice tips!

    I would recommend carrying pepper spray with you as well. Keep it in an easily accessible pocket in your purse or pocket. Basically if I’m alone and some guy is creeping me out, I keep my hand on it. It’s legal in the US and not too pricey.

    Also, a basic self defense class can do wonders. It’s easy to learn and can help build confidence when traveling alone. Basically, you’ll learn how to defend yourself from attackers (blocks, getting out of holds) and how to disable the attacker so you can get away (pressure points, certain body parts to hit, etc). If anything, it gives you the confidence and security that you can get out of a situation if one occurs.

    Lastly, if you start to feel creeped out, go to a public place. Run into a building or restaurant and stand by the employees there. This happened on my way home from work once while at Disney. This guy was following every random turn I made, and getting way too close to me for comfort. So I sprinted into a nearby store and told the cashier what was going on. Ended up waiting with her until the creeper went away.

    • This one is not legal in many jurisdictions outside of the USA (eg. it is a no-go where I live). So, be sure to check that you won’t get charged with assault if you have to use before you buy some off the internet.

    • I’ve always had a steadfast habit of carrying my keys in my hand, with the house key poked through my index and middle finger. Think of it as your own Wolverine claws if someone were to come at you. A quick jab at any exposed skin may just give you the chance you need to get away.

      It also reduces the fumbling around in a bag/pocket/on your key ring for the correct key, which can draw attention to yourself and leaves you vulnerable.

  6. Asking your bus driver to stops between main stops is a great idea. Sometimes they can’t because of traffic flows, but it’s worth asking.

    If it’s really dark I take a slightly longer well lit walk to get home. I also do one of two other methods: look really pissed off and walk confidently while looking others in the eye OR acknowledge everyone in my path by nodding or saying ‘hi” so they know I am aware of them, just in case they’re a creeper.

  7. I am a regular bus rider, and never knew it but I follow all these transit tips. The route I normally take has 2 hospitals, several nursing homes, and many drug rehab facilities along the way. And luckily I have only had a handful of incidents over the years, and they have always been resolved quickly and courteously by the transit office.
    Another tip (that isn’t practical everywhere) is to call the main transit station if there is anything wrong with the stop, such as a burnt out light, broken glass, people sleeping in the bus shelter, or if your regular bus never makes it.
    Around here, there are also people over the phone who help to plan your bus trip. You can tell them that it’s your regular route, or if you’re missing your regular route. It’s a bit of personal service that I know isn’t normal everywhere.

  8. I take the bus at 03:30 every weekend because I work nights. Depending on the night, buses can be calm or completely insane. My best advice is to just bring a book and start reading it immediately. Usually the person who sits next to me will also pull out a book. It makes it obvious that I’m not in the mood to talk. I’ve had men try to follow me home, but I am just incredibly firm. I also carry a switchblade in my purse just in case (and I’ve never had to use it for anything other than cutting tape or emergency sharpening my eyeliner).

    • Yes, please please know your local laws about weapons.

      Something I was told at a self-defence class (in the UK, where carrying pepper spray, knives or guns is illegal), is to carry your keys in your hand on the way to your door. If someone attacks or touches you, you can stab them in the arm or similar with your keys, and this will often give them enough of a shock to give you time to run away.

      Basically, self-defence classes local to you will know what is appropriate, and can be a great resource.

    • I’d also add that you should sit in an area of the bus where the driver can see you easily. When I was in London, I always sat on the lower level of the double deckers if I was riding alone at night. Similarly, in cities where there are the extra long “bendy buses,” sit towards the front. It will be more obvious for the driver if something is amiss and it will draw less attention to you if you need to get their attention.

  9. if you are in Vancouver BC, text your stop number (the 5 digit number on the sign) to 33333. It will provide you with real-time ETAs for every bus coming to your stop. Also helpful if you find you need to get off a bus before your stop in order to get on one you feel safer riding.

    • The TTC in Toronto ON has a similar service, with a digit on the sign you can text to receive updates via SMS
      -To receive arrival times for the next TTC vehicles (up to 6), just text the multi-digit stop number to 898882 (TXTTTC).
      -To receive arrival times for one specific route, text the multi-digit stop number, a space, then the route number to 898882 (TXTTTC).
      -To receive arrival times for a specific route going in a specific direction, text the multi-digit stop number, space, the route number, another space and the specific direction (N, S, E, W) to 898882 (TXTTTC)

  10. Where I live, kids are stealing cellphones/devices from people at bus stops. They’ll ask someone waiting for the bus what time it is, then when that person brings out their device to check the time, the kid grabs it from them & runs. So, my tip is wear a watch.

    In general, leave devices in your bag/pocket as much as possible. Don’t share music with a stranger on the bus, don’t take your phone out to check the time for someone, and trust your gut instinct with people. If a person feels untrustworthy, you have no obligation to be friendly to them. It’s not rude to keep barriers high on personal space/boundaries.

    • If someone asks me the time I just give them my closest guess. Sometimes someone will say something like “how do you know, you didn’t even look!” So I’ll tell them “I just checked a minute ago.”

  11. We’ve had trouble with people stealing electronics in my area as well. They get on the front of the bus, make a dash through grabbing phones or ipods, then get off through the back doors. I try to sit behind the back doors; I like the first seat behind them because it has a plexiglass wall most of the time. When I was riding the bus regularly, I had a “bus buddy,” a middle aged guy who got on a few stops ahead of me, so after a while I started sitting with him all the time. I know that doesn’t work for everyone, though. My best tip is to get off at a “safe” stop even if it’s a little farther to walk. The closest stop to my house has me crossing 4 lanes of traffic without a crosswalk or adequate lighting, so I get off a bit farther away in front of a school where there’s a crosswalk and street light.

  12. These are all great points. About once a month or so I have to leave work late (not midnight late but dark and cold late) and I employ most of these.

    Definitely know the timetable of the bus you are getting! The evening bus I get comes once an hour so it is important for me to be there a few minutes beforehand to make sure I make the bus. I hold on at work an extra few minutes so I am not hanging around too long. A lot of bus companies now offer a realtime bus timetable service so it is worth finding out how to see it, the one I use is both online and has a panel in the bus stop as well.

    I also second thinking about the busstop you go to, or indeed where you stand. My busstop is on the inside of a U bend, has no seating at it and isnt well lit however, on the other side of the road is a lit shelter with bench and you can see the bus coming from several minutes away so I sit and wait there. My bus route also goes through a rural area where the bus will pull over no matter where you stand as the stops are about a mile apart and a town that wont let the bus stop anywhere BUT the busstop.

    Letting the driver know who you are is a great piece of advice if you are regularly getting a bus anyway. The driver of the bus I get most early evenings knows to expect me and so he checks to see if I am headed for the bus stop. I have managed to make a few busses that otherwise I would have missed because he knows me and that I always have my money ready so he pulls in even if I am not at the right place yet.

  13. These are such great tips! I go to a very small, fairly safe everybody-knows-everybody type of school in a small IL town, but even so, my roommate and I always let each other know where we’re going to be. Even if it’s a simple, “Going out with X, I’ll be back after 11.” so the other one knows not to worry.

    She once went to the science building to study and turned her phone on airplane mode (unbeknownst to her) before her “Studying in X Building, back late!” text went through. I was on my way out the door to alert campus security when she returned!

  14. There’s a great app called Glympse that allows you to temporarily share your location with people as you travel. My public transit commuting days are over, but I like to go on long walks by myself so I share my location with my husband via Glympse in case something happens to me. Once you arrive at your destination you just end the location sharing.

  15. I haven’t read this comment yet, but it has worked for me and I have been taking transit at night for at least 9 years, and for a large amount of that time, having to travel through some questionable neighborhoods. ALWAYS look like you have a purpose. I mean catching the bus is a purpose, but look like you know what you are doing, if you walk to the bus stop, look like you are on a mission but not like a panicked one. Panic makes you a target, calm confidence gives off the air of “Don’t mess with me”. Trust me, I look like the kind of person where a 3 year old could kick my butt (and yes, they probably could), but I just walk around like I know what I am doing and the surroundings don’t freak me out and it seems to work well.

Join the Conversation