Coming Together to Design Safe Transit Solutions for Women

Participants taking part in the After Dark co-design workshop

With a view to complementing insights gathered from our After Dark field research, Pulse Lab Jakarta invited individuals across different sectors to participate in a co-design workshop. Organised in early December, the workshop was a unique opportunity for these individuals to offer inputs to support the analysis and synthesis phase of our research. Apart from the set of prototypes that emerged, the workshop focused on uncovering and understanding the underlying assumptions of different women personas travelling at night and brainstorming on how to design an inclusive environment for them.

Reframing Women’s Safety

Insights from the field research conducted in Semarang, Surabaya and Medan challenged the notion that a woman’s safety is solely dependent on adequate infrastructure and public facilities. The research team spoke with a diverse group of women with different experiences and perspectives, from which four personas were characterised: The Anxious Newcomer who recently migrated to the city; The Female Warrior who puts her work above her own safety; The Moonlighter who juggles multiple jobs to stay afloat; and The Overprepared Strategist who spends a lot of time coming up with defence strategies. All these personas have different travel routines but their anxiety about travelling at night is a commonality.

The challenge presented to the workshop participants was: to develop a supporting environment that promotes safe travel for women using public transportation at night. We narrowed the design challenge into three opportunity areas of intervention, namely: bystanders, public transportation services and law enforcement. Since the design workshop was not so much about the details of the prototypes, the emphasis was placed on unearthing new insights and understanding the rationale behind each design. The participants were divided into five groups, each group tasked with designing a unique prototype.

From Assumptions, Insights to Prototypes

The Bystander Design

What factors prevent bystanders from taking action? This was the question that steered this design. Two types of bystanders were identified: those who do not know what is happening; and those who may know but are reluctant to take action. Ranging from a lack of consciousness about what activities are considered harassment or violence, to the fear of retaliation if one becomes involved in an altercation, the discussions among the workshop participants revealed several insights:

First, bystanders fear misinterpreting a situation and therefore often need support from other passersby to take action. Second, bystanders need to come up with subtle tactics to intervene without attracting more than needed attention, because in many cases they believe that becoming too involved can cause more harm than good. Third, a woman’s sense of self and awareness about her surroundings need to be reinforced which can further encourage bystanders to intervene.

“Driver for Sister” is one of the prototypes that emerged, which sees the large group of active ojol (ojek online) drivers as an opportunity for intervention. The idea of this design is to have built-in incentives for drivers to render assistance whenever a woman activates the panic button through the mobile application. “Gerbong Aman” which means safe carriage was another prototype the participants came up with. This one focuses on designing a safe train carriage, equipped with tools and tips that bystanders can use to take subtle actions if they choose to intervene.

The Public Transportation Services Design

The groups tasked with coming with ways to improve the public transportation services began brainstorming by looking at a set of assumptions related to the services’ inadequacy and contributing factors. The discussions ranged from lax policies that regulate public transportation services to the inefficiency of existing infrastructure. The group eventually narrowed the scope to focus on bus stops, known locally as halte. The insights highlighted that:

First, women rarely wait for public transportation at designated points (i.e. bus stops or terminals). The pick-up points they chose may seem random, but the choices are actually based on the presence of friendly passersby that are often in these locations, for instance street vendors that usually greet them with a smile or parking lot attendants that have warned them about pickpockets. Second, city governments build designated transit stops based on standards from the Ministry of Transportation, but some of these standards have yet to take into account factors that contribute to women’s safety. In other words, there is a difference between the factors government believes constitute women’s safety and how women themselves perceive safety.

The “Halte Idol” prototype is a competition that calls for community members, heads of sub-districts, and private companies to participate in the identification of safe public transportation transit points. This dovetails with the “Safe and Comfortable Public Transportation Design Guideline” prototype, which seeks to establish a set of guidelines for designing public transportation infrastructure, especially bus stops, that is tailored to a local context and aligned with the perceptions of what safety means for women travelling at night.

The Law Enforcement Design

The underlying assumption with this design is the idea that regulations, crucial for ensuring women’s safety in public places, are not functioning well. For instance, while several reporting channels are available for women victims, these channels tend to lack integration between civil society groups and formal institutions. After getting a better sense of the issue through interviews with users, the group agreed that while regulations are still essential, an intervention with faster impact may be more dire. Thus, they decided to focus on closing the knowledge gap pertaining to reporting channels available. After bouncing a few ideas around, the group came up with a prototype called “Teman!” — a one-stop reporting application that allows victims of harassment or violence to file a report through various channels, in addition to accessing information about sexual harassment and city-related safety tips. The application is also designed for a bystander to file a report as a witness.

Co-design Workshop as a Research Method

There are many benefits of a co-design workshop, for instance learning new skills for researchers, uncovering participants’ blind spots, crowdsourcing ideas to solve challenges and multi-sector networking. This After Dark co-design workshop was a platform for us to further explore findings from our fieldwork with multiple stakeholders, which is particularly crucial since women’s safety is a systemic, complex issue. The workshop offered our team more nuanced insights related to the safety of women travelling at night, especially with regards to the role of bystanders, ojek online operators and incident reporting mechanisms.

Having a fair balance with complementing backgrounds among the participants in each group was important to consider. Therefore, we invited a mixed-group of participants from government institutions working on transportation issues; NGOs with keen interest on women’s issues and safety; design experts; and the everyday individuals who travel and use public transportation at night to take part. Since the co-design workshop is also part of our research approach, helping the participants to make sense of their interviews and coming up with insights that are useful was essential.

Getting to the next stage

“After Dark” is a collaborative research between Pulse Lab Jakarta and UN Women Indonesia that aims to gather insights on women’s mobility and travel choices in urban areas in order to design practical interventions that can improve the safety of women travelling at night. We are currently synthesising insights from the field research and co-design workshop, which will be published into a Pulse Story research report. We continue to work with UN Women Indonesia to process ideas from the co-design workshop in order to turn them into actionable agendas that can help build safe and inclusive cities. In the meantime, you can find other posts related to the After Dark study here. Stay tuned, there will be more to come!


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia.