After the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old woman, Nia Wilson, on a BART train station earlier this month and after several other rider attacks safety on public transportation has yet again become a hot topic. While not nearly as many attacks have occurred in Sonoma County it is still good to carry some smart, safety tips when riding public transportation.
Wilson, who was coming home from a family function with her sister, Lahtifa Wilson, was suddenly attacked and stabbed in the neck by 27-year-old parolee, John Lee Cowell when the two got off at the MacArthur Station around 9 p.m.
Later around 9:30 p.m., the 18-year-old was pronounced dead on the platform and her sister was taken to a hospital where she was in stable condition and was able to recover from her injuries.
According to transit police, the horrific attack came only days after another fatal rider attack, where a 47-year-old man, Don Stevens, was punched at the Bay Fair station and fell on hard, platform cement. Stevens was taken to the hospital where he later died.
With BART riders on edge it seems that many riders are brushing up on safety tips and heeding safety advice and so too should all public transportation riders.
While there has only been one deadly incident in SMART’s one year of service so far — which was ruled as a suicide following the death of a woman on train tracks near the Santa Rosa station, Jennifer Welch, SMART Chief of Police, says riders should always stay alert.
“Your safety is the number one priority. If you are not comfortable riding by yourself (or walking to your car by yourself at night) then be alert, or maybe ride some other transportation, but our stations are well lit and if there is anything that makes you feel unsafe you can call SMART dispatch or 9-1-1 and first responders will come out to you,” Welch said.
In terms of safety on board, Welch said there is always SMART personnel aboard each train who walk each car.
“All of our trains have SMART employees that walk throughout the train on trips and the trains aren’t large enough where if something were to happen you can easily flag somebody down,” Welch said.
Welch also mentioned that track safety and being aware of oncoming trains is equally important.
“Pay attention to signs and never approach an oncoming train on the platform. We have the thick, red stripe on the platform that you should stay behind and just be prepared. If it is your first time riding we want you to be safe — don’t rush,” Welch advised. “Allow yourself extra time to pay for parking and tickets and always keep your head up when walking near tracks. Pay attention to signs and the crossing signals/bells and always assume a train is coming since they are pretty fast and quiet.”
In terms of the Sonoma County Transit bus system, both SCT and Golden Gate Transit encourage the idea that if you see something suspicious, say something. GGT buses have a poster tacked to the inside of every bus with the mantra, “if you see something, say something.
For the safety of others both transit agencies have the no food or drink rule, as well as the no smoking or vaping rule.
Just as safety is of the utmost importance with Sonoma County Transit and other bus agencies, it is too at SMART.
Welch said, “Safety is our number one goal at SMART.”