New crime figures for the capital’s transport network prompted dramatic headlines this week, plus a crop of political interventions: Conservative mayoral candidate Susan Hall claimed Sadiq Khan’s “weak leadership” had let crime “skyrocket”, Richmond Park Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney talked about a “shocking” crime surge, and Keith Prince, the Tory chair of the London Assembly transport committee, announced that “Crime on London public transport is out of control”.
The committee met yesterday and looked at personal safety on the Transport for London network, but it was a less histrionic affair, with a panel of senior Metropolitan and British Transport Police officers plus representatives from TfL and independent transport watchdog London TravelWatch outlining the continuing challenges of policing one of the largest public transport networks in the world and the work underway to address them.
The top line figures looked relatively stark – crime on the network as a whole, covering the Tube, buses, trams, the Elizabeth line, London Overground and the Docklands Light Railway, was up by 30 per cent between April and September 2023, compared to the same period in 2022, according to TfL’s latest report. On the Tube, crime was up 56 per cent, on the buses, six per cent, and on the Overground, 28 per cent.
The increase on the Tube, from 6,294 offences to 10,836, was fuelled by an 83 per cent increase in theft offences to 5,378, and a 107 per cent increase in robberies – essentially theft with the threat or use of force – from 164 to 340.
Chief Superintendent Chris Casey, the British Transport Police (BTP) commander for London and the south-east, responsible for policing Tube and rail services in the capital, said that crime had been on the increase post-pandemic as passengers returned to the network, broadly in line with London-wide and national trends.
The exception was hate crime, with a growing number of offences reported even before a recent significant increase in October and November, particularly in antisemitic hate crime but also Islamophobia, he added, accepting also that hate crime overall, including sexual harassment and homophobia, remained under-reported.
Victims were uncertain about what behaviour constituted a crime and lacked confidence in the police, as evidenced by London TravelWatch’s research on passenger safety, the committee heard. The watchdog’s figures showed two in five women and girls and one in five members of the LGBTQ+ community experiencing hate crime on the network over the previous 12 months
The panel welcomed the new Protection from Sex-Based Harassment in Public Act 2023, finalised in September, which aims to outlaw “unwelcome and unwanted behaviour” in public “directed at a person…because of that person’s sex”. Regulations awaited from the government should provide clarity so that “everyone will understand what is acceptable and what is prohibited in law,” said Casey.
The increase in theft, particularly on the Underground, was also highlighted by TfL head of policing and community safety Mandy McGregor. It was predominantly pickpocketing behind the overall increase, the committee heard, with theft of personal property making up 62 per cent of additional crime on the Tube.
Theft, was the “main issue on large public transport networks around the world”, said McGregor. Crowded trains and platforms plus the generally “aged infrastructure” of the system brought particular challenges, the committee heard, noting that the spacious and well-lit Elizabeth line was now recorded in surveys as being the safest travel option in the city after private transport.
The risk of being a victim of crime at night was actually low, contrary to widely-held perceptions, said Casey, with just 4.8 crimes on average recorded on the night tube, now carrying between 60,000 and 70,000 passengers per night.
So how safe are we on public transport? “Many Londoners” are now “too afraid to use public transport,” Prince had said before the meeting.
TfL data for July to September this year shows a total of seven per cent of passengers deterred temporarily from using the network because of personal safety concerns, and just two per cent deterred completely.
The overall crime rate on the network, concealed by percentage shifts on small volumes for particular crimes, remains low: 12.7 offences per one million passenger journeys, compared to 11 last year for the periods measured in new TfL report. On the Tube, it’s 18.6 crimes per million journeys, and on the buses, 9.7 per million. The chances of becoming a victim of crime on the network are therefore small.
“It is the Mayor’s priority to ensure the transport network remains a safe and low-crime environment,” a spokesperson for Khan said, while Siwan Hayward, TfL policing and security director (pictured), outlined current actions underway. These include ongoing campaigns on hate crime including “active bystander” advice, plans to streamline online reporting options such as BTP’s “Guardian” app
“Ultimately we want a one-stop shop,” said London TravelWatch’s Alex Smith, “and longer-term programmes to upgrade CCTV and other station infrastructure, with internet access “across the majority of the network” by the end of next year.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that crime occurs because of offenders,” she added. “We can do a certain amount to make places feel safe, but we also need to be looking at offending behaviour and how we can make the environment hostile to offenders. That is our collective endeavour.”
Commander Casey was also quizzed by Labour Assembly member Joanne McCartney about this week’s other TfL crime story, Susan Hall’s claim that she herself had been pickpocketed on the Tube. Her missing wallet containing her travel card and £40 cash was later returned to her by a fellow passenger who found it on the train.
“It looks like a loss as opposed to a theft,” Casey said, adding: “There’s probably a huge amount of what is reported as theft which is actually lost property, I would suggest.”
Watch the transport committee meeting in full here. X/Twitter: Charles Wright and On London. If you value On London’s coverage of the UK capital, become a supporter or a paying subscriber to editor and publisher Dave Hill’s personal Substack for just £5 a month or £50 a year. In return you will get a weekly London newsletter and offers of free tickets to London events.