PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL
SALVADOR
BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
Summary report: Focus group interviews
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL
SALVADOR
BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
Summary report: Focus group interviews
June 2015
Solu...
CONTENT
1. INTRODUCTION......................................................................................................
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR
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1. INTRODUCTION
This document was elaborated upon request of FUSADES, t...
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR
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3. METHODOLOGY
This paper employs certain terms to make the discussion ...
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR
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Routine activities theory, one of the theoretical explanations that fal...
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patrol officers were conducted separately, and a same gender facilitato...
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4.1.1 Operation of buses
Users identified sources of disorder in public...
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ahead, and stop at unauthorized or illegal spaces to speed the process ...
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Fare collection was another source of disorder and area in which driver...
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Another source of disorder, framed by bad interpersonal exchanges and p...
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Discussions about these deplorable circumstances concluded that bus mai...
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4.2 Types of crime in public transport system
User discussions regardi...
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d) Modus Operandi
Most accounts of personal victimization offered duri...
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g) Gang related-crimes against the person
Participants’ descriptions o...
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Users claimed that the location of some authorized bus stops put passe...
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inappropriate laws favor criminals more than victims in El Salvador, t...
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Participants offered various examples of tactics that they employ to p...
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4.3 Suggestions to improve public transportation given by
participants...
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e) Improving user orientation
Focus groups suggested that more informa...
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should complement official police work by hiring private security guar...
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below $140 a day in total bus fares, was not acceptable for owners and...
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trigger altercations. They explained that they usually leave their hou...
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a) Buses condition
Drivers recognized that buses are generally in poor...
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a) Types of crimes
Participants described property and violent crimes....
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Participants also discussed incidents where offenders disguised themse...
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5.2.2 Incident response
Participants’ discussions described how driver...
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However, focus groups described a few incidents in which drivers were ...
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b) Cameras
Operators explained that other measures like panic buttons ...
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forth by bus owners, and also because authorized bus stops are always ...
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a) Types of crimes
Agents cited robberies, thefts, and homicides as th...
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f) Targets
Participants mentioned mobile phones, cash, and jewelry as ...
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Participants identified several issues that hamper their efforts to pr...
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7. BUS OWNERS
The focus group discussions in which bus owners and comp...
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Participants argued, on the other hand, that the ruling political part...
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:
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PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:

This document was elaborated upon request of FUSADES, to discuss the findings of focus group sessions carried-out as part of an ampler research project that addresses crime and fear of crime among users of public transport buses, microbuses and related environments in El Salvador. It constitutes the second component of a three-pronged research approach, designed to delve into these matters.
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Published in: Data & Analytics      
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Transcripts - PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2:

  • 1. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2: Summary report: Focus group interviews
  • 2. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR BACKGROUND PAPER 2: Summary report: Focus group interviews June 2015 SolucionES Project Cooperation Agreement No. AID-519-A-12-00003 Document prepared by: Lic. Carlos Ponce (National consultant) DISCLAIMER This publication was possible thanks to the support of the people of the United States of America through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The views and opinions expressed in this document are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of USAID or the Government of the United States.
  • 3. CONTENT 1. INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................................................1 2. OBJECTIVES ..............................................................................................................................................1 3. METHODOLOGY ........................................................................................................................................2 4. PUBLIC TRANSPORT USERS ......................................................................................................................4 4.1 Disorder and incivilities.......................................................................................................................4 4.2 Types of crime in public transport system........................................................................................10 4.3 Suggestions to improve public transportation given by participants...............................................16 5. PUBLICT TRANSPORT DRIVERS................................................................................................................18 5.1 Disorder and incivilities.....................................................................................................................18 5.2 Types of crime in public transport....................................................................................................21 5.3 Suggestions to improve public transportation given by participants...............................................25 6. PUBLIC TRANSPORT STAFF AND POLICE AGENTS ...................................................................................26 6.1 Disorder and incivilities.....................................................................................................................26 6.2 Types of crime in public transport....................................................................................................27 6.3 Suggestions to improve public transportation given by participants...............................................30 7. BUS OWNERS ..........................................................................................................................................31 7.1 Disorder and Incivilities.....................................................................................................................31 7.2 Types of crime in public transport....................................................................................................34 7.3 Suggestions to improve public transportation given by participants...............................................34 8. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS.........................................................................................................................35 8.1 Main Sources of Disorder..................................................................................................................35 8.2 Main forms of crime..........................................................................................................................38 8.3 Preventive suggestions suggested by focus groups participants......................................................40 9. REFERENCES............................................................................................................................................41 Appendix: Focus Group Discussion Guides.................................................................................................42
  • 4. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 1 1. INTRODUCTION This document was elaborated upon request of FUSADES, to discuss the findings of focus group sessions carried-out as part of an ampler research project that addresses crime and fear of crime among users of public transport buses, microbuses and related environments in El Salvador. It constitutes the second component of a three-pronged research approach, designed to delve into these matters. A systematic observation of the public transportation system was executed in the first phase of the project, to identify factors that contribute to the construction of opportunities for the perpetration of offenses, the increase of fear of crime, and the deterioration of perceptions of safety. The results from that exploration, discussed in a previous background paper, revealed that Salvadoran public transport exhibits characteristics that have been associated with transport crime elsewhere. More specifically, service was found to be deficient and irregular, plagued with signs of disorder and decay, resulting from the financial limitations that generally haunt this type of systems. In other cultural contexts, it has been suggested that, although thwarting crime opportunities is an offense-specific effort, fully comprehending findings such as those obtained through the current project’s systematic observation, can provide useful information about underlying conditions that shape similar opportunity features associated with groups of crimes committed in public transportation, which can help develop broad preventive measures (Smith & Clarke, 2000). Consequently, the second component of FUSADES’ investigation, discussed in this document, seeks to ascertain a better understanding about the distinct dynamic that operates in El Salvador, expanding on the results acquired through the first module of the investigation. The prevailing goal is to better comprehend crime, fear of crime, and perceptions of safety in Salvadoran public transportation to identify avenues for future crime-specific research and to explore core issues associated with various offenses, which can provide valuable information for the design and implementation of wide-ranging, immediate and feasible measures to enhance security and safety, and prevent crime. Focus groups were designed and conducted to explore relevant topics with different actors that intervene in public transportation. The objectives and methodology are detailed in the following sections of the paper. The information gathered from focus group sessions is discussed in separate sections, dedicating one to each type of participant profile. A summary of the findings is included at the end of the paper. 2. OBJECTIVES  Identify the main sources of disorder, as described by users, bus drivers, police officers and bus owners.  Determine the main forms of crime afflicting the system.  Elicit and detail crime prevention recommendations from focus group participants.
  • 5. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 2 3. METHODOLOGY This paper employs certain terms to make the discussion of focus group information more clear and succinct. “Bus” is henceforth used to refer to both buses and microbuses (except when otherwise noted) and “operator” is utilized to refer to people responsible for driving buses and/or collecting fares from passengers. The terms “passenger” and “user” are used interchangeably to refer to people who use public transportation. Focus group interviews were undertaken with four different types of participants: (1) passengers; (2) operators; (3) enforcers (patrol, emergency and transit police officers); (4) bus company owners/managers. A total of 156 individuals participated in the discussions: 100 passengers, 20 drivers, 20 police officers and 16 bus owners/managers (see Table 1). The Vice-Ministry of Transport (VMT) was contacted to organize focus groups with some of their officials, but there was no response to the respective formal requests. Table 1. Composition of focus groups Participants Participant Profile Number of participants Number of Focus Groups Male Female Total Passengers Employee 4 16 16 32 Unemployed 2 6 6 12 Retired 2 11 12 23 Students (university) 4 19 14 33 Operators Drivers 3 20 0 20 Enforcers Patrol and emergency police officers 2 7 5 12 Transit police officers 1 7 1 8 Owners Interdepartmental routes 1 6 0 6 Urban bus routes 1 5 0 5 Urban microbus routes 1 4 1 5 Total 21 101 55 156 Crimes committed in public transportation contexts target both users and service providers (Smith & Clarke, 2000). The current exploration, nonetheless, focuses exclusively on the former, emphasizing, therefore, the importance of information provided by focus group discussions among passengers. Various elements were considered in the design and execution of sessions held with this type of participant to assure representativeness and to create the conditions that facilitated enriching debates about the addressed topics.
  • 6. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 3 Routine activities theory, one of the theoretical explanations that fall under the umbrella of criminology’s opportunity theories, which is the practical guide for FUSADES’ research on public transport, posits that human activity patterns are related to crime (Cohen & Felson, 1979). Consistent with this premise, spatial concentrations of offenses committed in public transportation have evidenced shifts that coincide with transit fluxes associated with peak hour travel patterns (Newton et al., 2014). Additionally, the environmental particularities within settings related to public transport have shown to influence the types of crimes that are committed in distinct localities (Loukaitou-Sideris, 1999). Different movement patterns, thus, expose users to different levels of victimization risk and types of crimes. People’s transit behavior, on the other hand, is influenced by employment status and age, as the focus of their daily activities vary. Consequently, focus groups were organized and carried-out with university students and employed, unemployed and retired adults that used public transportation. Sessions were held with people that shared similar employment status to enrich discussions regarding similar experiences. Explorations done elsewhere also show that female public transport users are particularly at risk for being targets of specific types of offenses, predominantly of a sexual nature, and, as a result, have distinct security needs (Smith, 2008; Loukaitou-Sideris, 2005; Beller et al., 1980). Considering that eliciting information from participants about gender-sensitive topics requires that sessions be held in a trusting environment where opinions can be aired and discussed freely and comfortably (Liamputtong, 2011; Hennink, 2007), and that the moderator’s demographic characteristics must not inhibit discussions (Manderson et al., 2006), the different types of public transport users were additionally segregated by the participants’ gender into separate focus groups, in order to use moderators of the same gender. Focus group recruitment was executed employing different strategies that offered access to targeted profiles. In order to assure the anonymity of participants, the names of the entities that aided in their recruitment are not mentioned in this paper. Retired public transportation users were identified and recruited with the help of a non-governmental organization that provides services for senior citizens in El Salvador. A private foundation that interacts with university students and a higher learning institution, both located in the metropolitan area of San Salvador, contributed in finding and contacting university students that used public transportation and were willing to participate in focus groups. Private companies contacted by FUSADES to collaborate with this investigation, provided a pool of employed adults that used the public bus system and, moreover, facilitated their participation in focus group sessions. Access to a database of unemployed adults, constructed through various research projects, was granted by a private research firm that, additionally, helped recruit suitable participants. The National Civil Police (PNC) assisted in identifying police officers assigned to patrol, transit and emergency response units in San Salvador and coordinated their attendance to focus groups. A total of 20 police officers were recruited, in collaboration with the PNC, to conduct 3 separate focus groups. Agents were divided according to their designated job and, when possible, according to gender, so sexual transgressions could be discussed in a more comfortable environment. Sessions with male and female
  • 7. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 4 patrol officers were conducted separately, and a same gender facilitator moderated focus groups. Transit enforcement agents were all included in one session. Bus owners and company representatives that operate urban and interdepartmental bus routes were summoned to focus group sessions through sector associations. Sessions with 16 bus owners were conducted in 3 separate focus groups. The objectives and relevant theoretical premises of focus group discussions were thoroughly explained to moderators before sessions were held. They were also given a question guide to aid in the moderation of focus groups and to make sure that specific topics regarding disorder and crime within public transportation were addressed (See Appendix 1 for Question guides). Focus group interviews covered a wide range of topics deemed relevant to understanding patterns of public transit crime and to identifying preventive solutions, emphasizing certain topics depending on the role played by participants within public transportation. All sessions, in general terms, covered: (1) Transit patterns; (2) Crime victimization: type of crime, event and perpetrator characteristics, and police response; (3) Fear of crime; (4) Disorder and incivilities; (5) Quality of public transport: functionality, organization and assistance; (6) Government policies or procedures in running the transport system. Most focus group interviews were held in FUSADES’ premises, though, when needed, some sessions were done in other, more convenient locations. Each focus group took approximately 2 hours. As required by the USAID ethical board, informed consent was obtained from the participants and they were assured that their contribution would be anonymous. Transcripts from 21 focus groups were revised, coded, and information extracted according to topics required by FUSADES. The discussions paint a picture of a chaotic and competitive bus system, plagued by a variety of crimes, many of which are serious. Relevant information was elicited regarding underlying issues that cause disorder and chaos in the system, which seemed to be of as much concern to passengers as crime itself. 4. PUBLIC TRANSPORT USERS This section addresses users’ discussions related to disorder and incivilities, crimes, and suggestions to improve the Salvadoran public transportation system. 4.1 Disorder and incivilities Focus groups unanimously described the Salvadoran public transportation system as disorderly. Discussions about the topic concentrated in four areas: the operation of buses, negative interpersonal interactions, lack of passenger orientation, and sensory cues of chaos and decay.
  • 8. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 5 4.1.1 Operation of buses Users identified sources of disorder in public transportation and associated them with the system’s design and an array of common practices among drivers, fare collectors, and bus owners, triggered by two underlying issues: an overwhelmingly competitive environment and an excessive amount of discretion bestowed upon operators. a) Overwhelmingly competitive environment Participants explained that the way in which operators are paid generates a constant racing mindset among them. Focus group discussions described a hectic environment, driven by a need to generate as much money as possible by transporting as many passengers as possible, as quickly as possible. Users argued that bus owners establish a daily fee that drivers and fare collectors have to meet, regardless of the actual amount collected through the day’s runs. Everything beyond the daily fee, the operators get to keep. This arrangement, participants assured, inevitably incites a race between the different buses that run in the same route, to transport as much passengers as they can, as many times as they can. Focus group debates further complicated this context, positing that routes, most of the time, are ran by buses that belong to different owners, adding another layer of competition. The race, thus, is not limited to individual buses, but it also involves sets of buses owned by different companies along specific routes. This competitive environment was said to generate overcrowding, stimulate aggressive and dangerous driving, and cause passenger mistreatment and unreliable service, which are some of the most cited issues during users’ discussions about disorder in public transportation. Participants explained that drivers appear to always be in a hurry and, as a result, abuse passengers by harshly rushing them to get on and off public transportation vehicles, not waiting for them to safely sit down or get off before abruptly speeding away from the stop, and driving carelessly and fast throughout the route’s runs, with no regard for the welfare of infant and senior users. A frequent complaint was that drivers stopped in the middle of busy streets and made customers exit in intense transit areas. Another frequent objection was that buses stop at an angle at bus stops, cutting off other public transportation vehicles, and, in doing so, force users to descend on to the street and not the sidewalk. Focus groups portrayed drivers and fare collectors as people with no respect for transit regulations, rude, and not interested in the passengers’ wellbeing and comfort. Moreover, participants argued that some appear to be notably drunk or under the influence of drugs while working. Users maintained that inadequate (or inexistent) recruiting and control procedures are contributing factors that have allowed young, rude, irresponsible, and underqualified men to take over bus driver and fare collector positions. Users claimed that operators, in an effort to hog more passengers, often remain long periods of time at stops, waiting for the bus to fill up, purposely delaying service and making customers late. During peak hours, on the other hand, participants contended that operators saturate vehicles with passengers to dangerous levels, skip or refuse stops if they think that it will cause them to miss more populated ones
  • 9. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 6 ahead, and stop at unauthorized or illegal spaces to speed the process of loading and unloading of customers. Competition is further exacerbated by owners that require drivers to keep route runs under a set maximum run time. Users conveyed that, between hogging passengers and traffic caused by buses racing each other, accidents, and road work, time limits make drivers even more aggressive, skip more stops, treat customers even worse, and constantly seek shortcuts, disrespecting established routes, to comply with this requirement. Focus group discussions revealed that the competition between buses of the same route also involves competing for a spot at bus stops, usually saturated by buses of different routes. Users explained that, during peak hours, stops are overflowing with people waiting for different routes and long lines of buses briefly stopping to pick up passengers, making it difficult for people to identify their corresponding route and forcing them to rush to where it stopped to board it. b) Excessive discretion awarded to operators Focus groups discussions about disorder noted bus operators’ behaviors and practices related to the amount of discretion with which drivers and fare collectors do their jobs. Participants’ descriptions prototypically depicted them as holding all the power during their interactions with users, who were portrayed as the weaker counterpart. Situations cited during focus groups specifically conveyed excessive freedoms regarding bus stops, fare collection, and bus personalization. Users explained that operators decide in which authorized bus stops they stop and for whom. As stated before, sometimes it has to do with their permanent objective to hog as much passengers as possible. Other times, however, participants claimed that official bus stops are not respected because drivers estimate - based only on their best guess, not according to a set standard - that the bus is full enough and, therefore, decide not to pick up any more customers. Users also contended that bus drivers are more likely to stop if there is an attractive woman at the bus stop and tend not to if there is only a single male customer waiting. Focus group participants also complained that some bus drivers don’t like to make a full run and turn back before the designated end of the route. As a result, operators don’t stop when they spot customers whose destinies are near the end of the route. Halting at unauthorized stops was also identified as a common practice and a source of disorder by focus groups, and linked to the operators’ level of discretion. Participants explained that passengers always want to be dropped off and picked up as close as possible to their destination and point of origin, respectively. They also noted that getting off at dangerous authorized stops is avoided, but drivers and fare collectors are the ones that get to decide if they do or not. Focus groups discussions uncovered, for example, that altercations between passengers and operators, or even simple perceived signs of disrespect, entail retaliation by bus drivers and fare collectors towards customers, stopping a few stops ahead the guilty party’s desired stop and, therefore, increasing the walk to their final destination.
  • 10. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 7 Fare collection was another source of disorder and area in which drivers and fare collectors exercise a great deal of discretion. Users asserted that operators sometimes intentionally give back the incorrect amount of change and, other times, argue that they do not have enough change, promising to give it the next time the customer boards the bus. Participants also alleged that operators make them jump the door turnstile when entering the bus or make them board through the backdoor where there isn’t one and charge them fare anyway. Not charging attractive female passengers and gang members was described as a common practice. The presence of street performers and vendors, and panhandlers inside buses was also acknowledged as a source of disorder. Focus group participants complained that bus drivers and fare collectors allowed them to board buses and did not charge them. This, according to user discussions, delays service and worsens overcrowding. Focus groups noted the operators’ use of mobile telephones openly and frequently during, with little regard for legal prohibitions, was noted as a source of disorder. Users criticized that drivers and fare collectors where distracted when using their telephones and, as a result, the quality of service was affected negatively. Moreover, it was argued that the operators’ attention was further diminished when female acquaintances accompany them during runs, intermittently engaging in public displays of affection. Participants also explained that bus drivers and fare collectors are allowed to personalize public transportation vehicles and identified the result as a source of disorder. Focus groups described that some buses have sophisticated stereo equipment and is used to play loud music with explicit lyrics at full volume during route runs. They added that, in some cases, this is complemented by strobe or black lights installed inside the vehicle. Users also complaint about unofficial decals placed inside and outside buses, that displayed religious, funny, and, sometimes, vulgar quotes or images, or made reference to sport teams. 4.1.2 Negative interpersonal interactions User focus groups identified negative interpersonal interactions as a source of disorder. Discussions portrayed Salvadoran public transportation as a place where anything can happen, a context in which society’s rules and codes of conduct do not apply. Participant depictions conveyed a sense of lawlessness in a subculture within the system where otherwise unacceptable behaviors are tolerated under certain circumstances. This environment was said to promote negative interactions between users and between users and operators. Users described an anarchic environment in which the stronger prevail. Women, children, and the elderly were acknowledged as the most vulnerable passengers. Scenarios most frequently cited by participants involved people trying to get on or off the bus, aggressively agglomerating at the entrance or exit. During these common and chaotic situations, men were said to push away women, women push away seniors, and children were said to be tossed around by everyone. These negative interactions, not accepted out of the confines of public transportation, were described by users as the norm inside the system and said to spur verbal confrontations and other disruptive outcomes.
  • 11. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 8 Another source of disorder, framed by bad interpersonal exchanges and predominantly noted by focus groups, involved various examples of operators verbally and physically abusing passengers. Participants that discussed interactions between customers and bus drivers and fare collectors, described them as being rude and vulgar, and argued that they display a lack of customer service training. Verbal altercations with an operator were said to sometimes motivate drivers to drive aggressively with the intention of knocking down users. Focus groups frequently illustrated this abuse by contrasting it with how animals are treated. Personal experiences that involved drivers and fare collectors yelling and cursing at customers, were utilized during discussions to explain mistreatment. Focus group participants also described instances were passengers’ made inquiries or complaints about service to operators, but either got no response or incited a rude and generally useless answer. As noted before, users partially linked customer abuse to the competitive nature of Salvadoran public transport. However, they also associated it with long hours and stress that the operators’ job involves. Additionally, unruly behavior by gang members was cited as a negative interaction. Gang members were described as loud passengers travelling at the back of the bus, occasionally harassing users. Their behavior was said to create a tense environment in which violence could erupt spontaneously. 4.1.3 Lack of passenger orientation Focus groups recognized that the absence of information about public transportation’s operations creates disorder. Debates about the topic painted the system as very complex, referring to particularities that make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for new passengers to navigate through routes they’ve never travelled before. Participants noted that some important bus stops, for example, do not have proper infrastructure or anything to identify them as such, and, thus, are only known by regular users. Moreover, even those authorized bus stops that are clearly marked were said to lack any type of signage that displays the routes that stop, schedules, or runs’ details. Hence, unfamiliar users’ only hope is to ask habitual users for directions. It was suggested that there is no other source that can be queried to research this information. Participants also criticized that customers were not effectively informed about route changes, which, they argued, resulted in delays and confusion. 4.1.4 Sensory cues of chaos and decay Focus groups detailed sensory cues associated with disorder and deterioration regarding the condition of the bus, the operators’ appearance, and bus stop characteristics. a) Bus condition Disorder was linked by users to several signs of bus decay. Focus groups portrayed public transportation vehicles as generally being in terrible cosmetic and mechanical condition. Participants particularly emphasized missing and damaged seats and handrails, holes on the floor, leaky roofs, broken windows and traffic signals, graffiti, noisy engines, garbage accumulation, and excessive exhaust smoke and crackling sounds.
  • 12. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 9 Discussions about these deplorable circumstances concluded that bus maintenance, repair, and care played an important part. Some users argued that many owners, besides asking drivers and fare collectors for a daily fee, demand that they take care of any bus mechanical and cosmetic issues. This, they contended, places a financial burden upon operators that is unlikely covered. Other participants noted that most buses are very old and, therefore, are prone to exhibit these conditions. Furthermore, they criticized that owners only apply a fresh coat of paint to dilapidated buses to pass them off as new or restored. b) Operators’ appearance Focus groups sustained that the operators’ appearance contributed to disorder within public transportation. Participants maintained that not using uniforms creates disorder because it makes it more difficult for passengers to identify them. Participants claim that most drivers often dress in dirty clothes and, sometimes, favor gang-like attire, which arouses a sense of decay. c) Bus stop characteristics Users complained that bus stops are chaotic. Overcrowding was one of the most frequently cited sings of disorder and associated with three issues. First, participants explained that several routes stop at the same stop and, as a result, more people wait for their buses at the same stops. Second, focus group discussions revealed that the service cycle for some routes was irregular or involved long waiting periods, which was said to cause an overwhelming accumulation of passenger at bus stops. Lastly, users linked overcrowding to street vendors, who were accused of taking over bus stops and, consequently, making passengers sometimes wait for their buses in the street or otherwise undesignated areas. Customers running up and down the street to board their buses was also identified as a source of disorder. Participants pointed out that the high saturation of routes at particular bus stops makes it more difficult for buses to stop at designated areas. As a result, buses stop where they can, as close as they can to their designated bus stops. Users described long, curvy lines of buses of different routes inappropriately parked at an angle along the sidewalk. During these hectic situations, passengers were said to have to keep up with where their route stopped along those lines of buses, in order to catch it. According to participants, flocks of users run significant distances from designated bus stops to where their corresponding route has stopped askew. They portrayed a similar scenario when referring to the disorder caused by drivers discretionarily stopping away from the designated areas. Focus groups discussions about official bus stops described them as being in poor conditions and connected this with disorder. Users particularly mentioned damaged roofs, stolen or missing benches and signage, potholes, graffiti, and garbage.
  • 13. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 10 4.2 Types of crime in public transport system User discussions regarding crime in public transportation offered details about victimization patterns, response to incidents, and strategies to reduce being targeted. Debates about these topics are summarized in this section. 4.2.1 Patterns of victimization Participants’ descriptions of bus crimes provided details about the most common types of offenses, victims, perpetrators, weapons, modus operandi, targets, and weapons. Gang-related crimes, victimization at bus stops, sexual transgressions, and differences between buses and microbuses regarding safety issues, were also discussed. a) Type of crimes Focus group debates about crime in public transportation invariably made reference to property offenses, describing robberies and thefts in a similar proportion. Crimes against people were relatively less cited and tended to concentrate on sexual or gang-related transgressions. Considering the particular nature of these offenses, they are addressed separately. b) Victims Every focus group offered at least one description of personal victimization, indicating that everyone, regardless of gender or age, is a potential target. Consistent with this proposition, some users explained that the victim’s profile varies depending on where the route runs. University students, for example, posited that in the buses they take to school, offenders prefer to target students. Unemployed male adults, on the other hand, claimed that in areas near or adjacent to business districts, perpetrators fancy employees as victims. However, some groups argued that female passengers are, overall, the most frequent victims. Participants explained that perpetrators victimize women because they pose less of a threat, considering that they tend to be physically weaker and are less prone to resist or react to attacks. Additionally, females were said to be favored by criminals because they carry their valuables in handbags and they are more likely to bring jewelry, which increases their value as targets. c) Perpetrators Participants quickly assured that gang members are the most frequent offenders of bus crimes. Nevertheless, some focus groups argued that there is a vast array of people that commit crimes within public transportation, from street performers to common criminals, and that gang members are not the only ones that victimize passengers. Users sustained that there are both male and female offenders, but that they all tend to be young.
  • 14. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 11 d) Modus Operandi Most accounts of personal victimization offered during focus groups, depicted the execution of bus crimes as organized and planned, involving two or more offenders working in coordination. According to user discussions, part of the assailants first scope for potential victims at bus stops or during the ride. Once targets have been identified, participants explained that some of the offenders move in on their victims and the rest relocates to strategic positions inside the bus, in support of their colleagues, to provide cover, react against threats, prevent victims from fleeing, or handle operators. After the victims’ property has been taken, perpetrators exit the bus. Users claimed that the timing of the different phases described above, is planned ahead. They contended that offenders identify the most convenient part of the route’s run, which offers the highest number of potential victims and the lowest probability of being caught. Consequently, the optimal locations to board the bus, commit the crime, and exit, are selected beforehand. The actual execution of the offense, however, varies. Participants asserted that thefts are most likely to occur during peak hours, when buses are overcrowded to a maximum. Pick-pocketing was said to be quite common during the convulsive boarding and disembarking sequences at bus stops, and the saturated conditions in which people travel. Users described various attention-diversion techniques employed by pickpockets: using women to distract victims either by touching, flirting with, or rubbing against male passengers, cutting pockets and bags to gain access, and bumping into victims. Focus groups argued that robberies tend to take place when overcrowding is not at its worst and during slow hours. A frequent scenario portrayed through discussions described offenders standing up, announcing to the rest of the passengers that they were being robbed, and then proceeding to take their valuables. Sometimes offenders were said to claim gang affiliation and demanded money to pay for funerals, doctors, or lawyers of fallen, wounded, or arrested fellow gang members, or because they’ve just got out of prison. Personal accounts of victimization also included robberies were perpetrators came up to one or multiple victims and made individual or collective threats and demands. Additionally, users explained that thefts and robberies tend to occur more frequently at the back of the bus. They argue that close proximity to the exit door gives offenders a chance to escape more easily and promptly. e) Targets Focus group participants deemed mobile telephones, jewelry, and cash, as the most sought after loots. The majority of personal victimization accounts, nevertheless, referred more frequently to mobile telephones as intended targets. f) Weapons Users claimed that conventional handguns and sharp objects are the most common weapons utilized by offenders. They also warned that perpetrators frequently don’t use any weapons and simply claim gang affiliation or appear to belong to a gang as a threat to rob passengers.
  • 15. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 12 g) Gang related-crimes against the person Participants’ descriptions of violent crimes committed by gang members inside buses, portrayed users both as deliberately targeted and incidental victims. Focus groups argued that in high gang activity areas, gang members board buses to ask young passengers for their identification cards, determine if their registered addresses are located at neighborhoods controlled by rival groups, and, consequently, attack those who reside in enemy territories. Users were also said to be collateral victims of aggressions aimed at rival gang members, or someone associated with them, travelling in the bus or operators with whom offenders had grievances with. h) Sexual transgressions Focus group discussions about the topic asserted that sexual transgressions are commonplace in Salvadoran public transportation. Participants explained that men take advantage of overcrowding and hectic driving styles of bus drivers to touch women or rub against them. Moreover, various groups brought up cases in which male passengers masturbated against, and ejaculated on, females. Operators were frequently cited as vulgar and accused of unwanted verbal sexual advancements towards women and of touching them inappropriately while they boarded the bus. Female users complained that public transportation is filled with inappropriate sexual content and specifically referred to sexually explicit music, language, and posters and decals as regular ornaments of the bus user experience. Participants’ depictions of sexual transgressions generally involved accounts of incidents that involved male offenders and female victims. However, various focus group debates revealed that men-on-men victimization is also an issue. Male victims were said to react more harshly and repealed the perpetrators’ advancements more overtly than their female counterparts, confronting the offenders directly. Women used a more subtle response, pushing away perpetrators that rubbed against them from behind with their elbows or stepping on their toes. Accounts of both types of incidents tended to involve single offenders. i) Bus stops Although focus groups discussions recognized that crime is also a problem at bus stops, most accounts of victimization referred to crimes committed inside buses. Users recognized travelling inside the bus as the most vulnerable and, thus, unsafe part of public transportation. They explained that passengers are trapped while inside the bus and argued that crimes at bus stops are more easily avoided. Consistent with this argument, debates about other issues often included situations in which dangerous bus stops were avoided by passengers boarding or disembarking elsewhere, even if that meant walking greater distances from their point of origin or to their destiny. However, the possibility of being victimized while waiting for the bus was deemed as a source of anxiety that perpetuates the rule-breaking attitude justified by the subculture that operates within public transportation. Participants clarified that users want to get away from danger as soon as possible and that everything that contributes to achieve that goal is considered justifiable.
  • 16. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 13 Users claimed that the location of some authorized bus stops put passengers in danger, because they are forced to exit the bus and walk through areas controlled by gangs that rival their neighborhood’s gang. Participants explained that this makes gang members suspicious and can lead to being accused of being a spy for rival groups, which can result in physical attacks. j) Differences between buses and microbuses Focus group members agreed that crime is equally prevalent in both buses and microbuses. Nonetheless, it was pointed out that overcrowding and aggressive driving, which was said to be linked to thefts, tended to be worst in microbuses. 4.2.2 Response to crime incidents User discussions revealed that fear of reprisals is an important factor that dictates the reactions of people to crimes in perpetrated in public transport. Other issues were also said to have an impact. a) Operators’ response Participants coincided in that criminals that operate in buses generally work in coordination with drivers and fare collectors. Different explanations were offered about this relationship. Fear of reprisals was the most cited. Users claimed that operators collaborate with offenders because they have to travel the same route on the same bus every day, which makes them an easy target for those who want to retaliate for not complying with demands. Moreover, drivers and fare collectors were also said to live in high-gang- activity neighborhoods and, sometimes, are threatened by gang-affiliated neighbors to help them commit crimes against passengers. Debates about the topic also revealed that gang membership among operators is quite common. This was often used to explain the operators’ ties with criminals that victimize passengers. Participants argued that this cooperation is so strong that, in some cases, drivers and fare collectors point out potential targets to offenders. Stopping to allow criminals to get on and off the bus at locations with low risk for detection by police, was also conveyed as a common practice among drivers. Users alleged that operators generally look the other way or even watch unresponsively through the rearview mirror while passengers are targeted by offenders. Drivers and fare collectors were commonly portrayed as unsympathetic to crime and victims. Some focus groups, however, sustained that operators sometimes try to avoid customer victimization by not stopping to pick up known offenders and, also, explicitly warning suspicious passengers not to target other users. These were deemed as exceptional scenarios and not habitual occurrences. b) Other users’ response Participants maintained users tend not to respond or report when fellow customers are being targeted by offenders. It was argued that reacting during the commission of a crime is too dangerous because criminals generally work in groups inside public transportation. Users also justified that, considering they travel the same routes every day, intervening puts them at greater risk in the future. Additionally, participants claimed that police inefficiency and corruption makes it pointless to report crimes and that
  • 17. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 14 inappropriate laws favor criminals more than victims in El Salvador, thus making reacting to others’ victimization troublesome. Users also criticized that there is no hotline to report criminal activities. Regardless of these disparaging conditions, some passengers described discreet attempts to warn others about offenders, pointing with their eyes and making face gestures to indicate the commission of a crime is in progress. The few accounts that described overt and massive responses to the victimization of other customers, was limited to cases of a sexual nature, which, as stated earlier, tend to involve single offenders. c) Bystanders’ response The presence of people other than operators and passengers is widespread in Salvadoran public transportation. As described before, fare collectors and drivers allow panhandlers and street vendors and performers to board buses. Focus group discussions suggested that these are not unsuspecting bystanders to bus crimes, but in fact work in coordination with robbers and thieves, boarding buses before them, identifying potential victims, and relaying this information. These people were also said to sometimes take advantage of the unintimidating cover provided by their crafts and appearance, to themselves victimize passengers. d) Authorities’ response Focus groups portrayed authorities as ineffective and corrupt. Users argued that crime and criminal organizations are overwhelming and that, as a result, the Police is overpowered. Furthermore, there was a general perception among participants that criminal structures have penetrated the State’s public safety apparatus. Participants claimed that police officers are seldom around and, even if they are, they don’t respond to crime as expected by users. Participants justified that police personnel is afraid to act against officers because they live in gang infested neighborhoods and try to avoid retaliation. Furthermore, users claimed that when the Police detain offenders, cases are likely lost during later stages of criminal prosecution and, thus, perpetrators are quickly freed. Focus groups’ discussions about the authorities’ response to crime within public transportation additionally conveyed that the Vice-ministry of Transportation does nothing to reduce criminal activities or tend to victims. Specifically, users stated that it should play a more active role in identifying crime hot spots and adjusting bus routes accordingly. 4.2.3 Strategies to reduce victimization During focus group, participants detailed various strategies utilized to reduce the chances of becoming victims, which essentially involve minimizing risks and removing targets preferred by offenders. a) Minimizing risks Users’ accounts conveyed that high-risk situations are evaded by avoiding drawing the attention of offenders, promptly identifying imminent threats, and modifying travel patterns.
  • 18. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 15 Participants offered various examples of tactics that they employ to prevent being noticed by potential criminals. Openly showing targets favored by offenders was among the most frequently cited. Users said that they turn off their mobile telephones and try not to pay fare collectors with large bills or use exact change, so other passengers don’t notice that they are carrying cash or electronic devices. Not wearing expensive-looking clothes was another strategy offered by users. Young male participants added that it is important to avoid clothing articles or styles commonly preferred by gangs, not to attract attention from gang members. Female participants described tactics to reduce the risk of travelling alone. Specifically, some said that they asked male acquaintances to accompany them or meet with them at some point of the routes’ runs. Others explained that they usually look for older, unsuspicious males that can pass of as their fathers, to sit next to and, in that way, scare off potential offenders. Focus group debates awarded great importance to passengers being vigilant while using public transportation to quickly identify threats and avoid dangers. Users explained that they scope other users before boarding at bus stops to detect any suspicious people or situation and, thus, determine if it is safe to catch the next bus or not. They also said that when they enter the bus they examine other passengers’ demeanors and search for signs of danger, to decide where to sit or stand. Through their journey, users assured they maintain this vigilant state and are prepared to flee if danger is perceived. In addition, focus groups revealed that risk is minimized by utilizing prior knowledge of victimization patterns. Users said that they tried to sit near the entrance, avoid the back of the bus and did not get off at dangerous bus stops, and sat at aisle seats. Participants with more flexible schedules explained that they avoid using buses at night and peak hours. Female participants added that they skip empty bus stops. b) Removing targets Participants detailed tactics to reduce victimization that involved hiding or not carrying valuable objects while travelling on public transportation. Users frequently claimed that they use decoys to give offenders in case they are targeted, carrying a cheap mobile telephone and leaving only a small amount of money in their pockets or wallets, while hiding more expensive electronic devices and cash in their underwear or other inconspicuous places. Others said they adopted more drastic measures, completely removing desirable targets. Participants explained that they leave important documents and cards, cash, and valuable mobile devices at home, and carry only the minimum amount of cash to cover the bus fares and small incidentals. Some users take an even more radical approach, and contend that they just don’t buy expensive things because they might get stolen when they use public transportation.
  • 19. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 16 4.3 Suggestions to improve public transportation given by participants Users’ recommendations to improve public transportation in El Salvador focused on measures to curve disorder and crime. There was general plea among all focus groups for the central Government to truly get involved and resolve the system’s shortcomings. 4.3.1 Order Measures suggested by participants involved training and conditioning, reducing stressful job conditions for operators, redesigning routes, enhancing enforcement, improving user orientation, rethinking boarding and disembarking sequences, increasing standards and controls for operation of buses and concession of routes, and regulating order inside the bus. a) Training and conditioning Focus groups recommended that operators receive training on safe driving, dealing properly with customers and handling emergencies. Users stressed the importance of this issue by proposing that training be required by law. They noted the importance of summiting new drivers and fare collectors to induction training and prompted the creation of an operator’s school. It was also suggested that training courses be provided for bus owners to improve their team managing skills, so they can better instruct their operators on safe driving and customer service. Focus groups acknowledged the importance of initiatives that help debunk the current negative public transportation subculture, through the promotion of good practices among passengers to reduce disorder and incivilities. b) Reducing stressful work conditions for operators Participants recognized that drivers and fare collectors work under overwhelming conditions and that this affects their performance. Consequently, they propounded mandatory breaks for operators and enacting regulations that stablish work shifts and set a maximum amount of allowed work hours per shift. c) Route design Focus groups suggested that routes be redesign in order to avoid various routes stopping at the same bus stops and that the number of buses that work high-demand routes be increased during peak hours. Users theorized that this measures would reduce overcrowding at bus stops and inside buses, because passenger loads would be redistributed. d) Harsher penalties and effective enforcement Participants recommended that more strict and grave penalties be approved for operators, specifically calling for any transgression committed by drivers and fare collectors to be considered a serious criminal offense. Additionally, users warned that effective enforcement of regulations and laws, and compliance with punishments, are necessary and, thus, should be procured.
  • 20. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 17 e) Improving user orientation Focus groups suggested that more information should be provided to users regarding bus routes. Specifically, users proposed that information regarding routes’ schedules, runs, and fares should be readily available and clearly displayed for users at bus stops and buses. f) Rethinking boarding and disembarking sequences Participants advocated that boarding buses be done in a more orderly fashion and, consequently, recommended that bus stops be redesigned in such a way that passengers enter and exit the bus in a line. It was also propounded that municipalities should be responsible for building and keeping bus stops in adequate conditions. g) Increasing bus operator and route concession standards and controls Participants called for harsher regulations that establish more strict requirements for drivers and fare collectors, to filter-out those with criminal records, traffic violations, suspended or missing drivers licenses, and other unacceptable behaviors or deficits. It was also suggested that permanent control mechanisms be created to secure enforcement. Users propounded that more demanding requisites be put in place for route concessions. They explained that routes sometimes are awarded to companies or individual bus owners that don’t possess the administrative and financial robustness to guarantee the proper operation of buses. Hence, it was proposed that the requirements set forth for applicants who compete for the concession of routes, be enhanced. Furthermore, focus group discussions called for buses to be repaired and for the establishment of industry standards for vehicle maintenance. h) Regulate order inside the bus Users proposed measures to reduce overcrowding, improve passenger access controls, and ban loud music inside buses. Focus groups, in order to defuse the saturated conditions endured by passengers, suggested banning passengers traveling standing-up, establishing a maximum amount of time buses are allowed to park at bus stops and improving the enforcement of the maximum number of allowed passengers per bus. Providing overhead compartments to store bags and backpacks, was also mentioned by participants. Focus groups debates called for better procedures and regulations to control passenger access. The implementation of electronic bus cards was cited as an option. It was also suggested that street vendors and performers, and panhandlers be forbidden inside buses. Additionally, users proposed banning loud music during bus runs. 4.3.2 Suggestions to combat crime Participants offered relatively less suggestions to combat crime. The most frequent propositions entailed deploying uniformed or undercover police agents, private security guards, or municipal police officers in buses and bus stops. Some users justified that police personnel is scarce and, therefore, bus owners
  • 21. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 18 should complement official police work by hiring private security guards. Others argued that local governments should take a more active role in the matter and assign municipal police to secure bus stops. Focus groups also suggested that limited police resources should be optimized by analyzing victimization patterns and, consequently, deploying agents during peak hours to critical routes and bus stops. Another common proposal involved installing cameras in buses and bus stops. Users warned, however, that there must be people monitoring and analyzing images so that a corresponding operative response can be formulated and, thus, assure the intended deterrent effect. Resolving lighting issues at bus stops and eliminating lonely bus stops were also suggested as measures to reduce crime. 5. PUBLICT TRANSPORT DRIVERS Efforts were made to recruit both fare collectors and drivers for focus groups. Nevertheless, this proved to be a difficult task. Operators were suspicious about sessions and there seemed to be an issue with the possible consequences of providing information about the complex crime dynamics that operate in Salvadoran public transport. However, twenty drivers were recruited from three different bus routes, with which three sessions were conducted. The corresponding focus group discussions are summarized in this section. 5.1 Disorder and incivilities Every focus group portrayed Salvadoran public transportation as chaotic. Operators, in contrast with users’ discussions about disorder and incivilities, linked them directly with relatively less sources, concentrating mostly on bus operations and negative interactions with customers. Driver debates provided useful complementary information regarding other issues that users associated with disorder. 5.1.1 Bus operations Participants’ discussions about disorder and incivilities related to how buses are operated, were rooted on the competitive environment of public transportation and negative interpersonal interactions between the actors that intervene in public transport. a) Competitive environment Operators recognized that they drive aggressively, speeding, breaking traffic laws, and stopping at unauthorized places to pick up users. They asserted that this is directly related to the competitive nature of public transportation in El Salvador, generated by the way they are paid and the system is designed. Participants added that these conditions are further accentuated by other economic constraints, overall traffic conditions, and pedestrians’ negligence. Drivers explained that they are not paid a fixed salary by their employers or awarded any other benefits. Depending on the company, they said they get to keep between 13% and 15% of the daily bus fare total. They argued that, consequently, they average about twenty dollars a day. Some suggested that anything
  • 22. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 19 below $140 a day in total bus fares, was not acceptable for owners and that repeatedly amounting less than that, would get them replaced. Drivers claimed that, because of this, they must procure as many passengers as they can, thus inciting overcrowding, dangerous driving, and illegal stops. Operators also said that, considering there is a fixed number of customers at bus stops at any given time, they must compete for them with buses that run the same route or even other ones that don’t. Participants considered that too much buses and routes coincide during their journeys and, therefore, at bus stops. Moreover, they complained that some bus routes, in an effort to increase earnings, have extended their routes’ runs to cover additional destinations, invading territories assigned to other routes. Drivers contended that, as a result, they have to drive even more aggressively and stop at more unauthorized stops to pick up more customers. Discussions about disorder generated by the competitive environment in which public transportation takes place, depicted buses and microbuses running the same routes as an additional layer of competition that further obfuscates conditions. Participants suggested that the smaller size of microbuses allows them to drive faster and more aggressively, giving them the upper hand in the permanent race to hog passengers. One driver estimated that the most conservative operators average between twenty five to thirty traffic violations a day. Discussions about the topic suggested that, although traffic transgressions are frequent, drivers are careful not to commit them in front of police officers and, for that reason, the amount of tickets issued is far less than the actual number of offenses. Nevertheless, some operators claimed that they have paid thousands of dollars in tickets. They explained that tickets related to the buses’ condition are issued to their drivers’ licenses, even though vehicle maintenance is the owners’ responsibility. Consequently, they said having to pay these traffic violations heightens their need for transporting as much passengers as possible, to generate more income. Operators pointed out that companies have stablished unachievable standards for daily operations and set corresponding fines for noncompliance, reducing drivers’ daily income. Participants most frequently cited company fines for not completing their routes’ runs under the set maximum acceptable time and for using more gasoline than the maximum allowed per run. Overall heavy traffic and pedestrian saturation and negligence in narrow streets, were said to make it impossible to comply with set standards. Fines, therefore, were said to diminish the operator’s income even further and, in turn, worsen disorder within public transportation. b) Negative interactions with customers Driver discussions portrayed fare collection and bus stops as critical points of public transportation, in which negative interactions with users are prone to spark. These same issues were linked by user focus groups to disorderly operation of buses, because of high discretion provided to operators. Regardless of the type of adverse contact with customers, drivers said that the exhausting conditions that their work schedules entail, increases the probability of reacting inadequately to situations that might
  • 23. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 20 trigger altercations. They explained that they usually leave their house between three and four in the morning, to be ready for the first run at five. Delays caused by traffic and other factors deprives them of breaks to make-up for lost time, they argued that usually, because of this, they have to eat lunch while driving. Drivers coincided in that they get off work at around ten at night and go home. They claimed to work this schedule six days a week and that that the hectic rhythm of their jobs makes them tired and less patient with customers, increasing the possibilities of bad interactions. 5.1.2 Fare collection Providing less fare or change than expected was a frequent scenario also described by operators. Drivers, however, claimed that they ran out of coins fast and, therefore, often have to tell users to wait a few stops for their change. Participants explained that customers, in these situations, think that they are being taken advantage of and altercations commonly ensue. Sometimes opposite roles were depicted. Drivers described cases in which users provided less fare than expected and operators had to deal with it as circumstances allowed, contributing to disorder. Operators also portrayed experiences in which customers tried to scam drivers by demanding more change, claiming to have paid with larger denominations, generating conflictive interactions. Additionally, participants claimed that not accepting pennies or providing them as change, ignited negative interchanges with users. However, the most emotional discussions about adverse interactions with customers, involved drivers feeling discriminated against or being treated as second class citizens. Operators explained that customers throw or drop fare money in their hands, noticeably avoiding any direct contact. Users were said to articulate a similar exchange when drivers supply change. Participants revealed that this annoys them, because they believe that it’s indicative of how those particular customers look down on them. On occasions, this sentiment was said to trigger altercations between drivers and users. 5.1.3 Bus stops As stated before, operators pointed-out that they often stop at unauthorized places to pick up passengers, in an effort to transport as many people as they can to increase their earnings. However, participants also contended that users constantly ask them to stop at unauthorized places and get annoyed when they refuse. Operators claimed that passengers want to exit the bus as close as possible to their destination and start screaming and hitting the bus until the driver stops where they want him to. It was acknowledged that users demanding to stop at arbitrary places, affects service in a negative way. 5.1.4 Sensory cues of chaos and decay Focus groups identified particularities regarding the appearance of operators and the buses as sources of chaos and decay.
  • 24. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 21 a) Buses condition Drivers recognized that buses are generally in poor cosmetic and mechanical conditions, but argued that some are in better condition than others depending on the care provided by owners. Drivers said that owners assign each operator a specific bus to drive. They explained that if the bus, for whatever reason, does not work, the driver does not earn. Consequently, operators assured that they check their buses every morning to avoid failures during the day. If they notice anything wrong or if the bus malfunctions during a run, they said they called the owners. Owners, at that point, then decide whether or not the issue is worth sending the bus to the shop and having not work. Drivers contended that some owners try to take good care of their buses and others don’t. Some were said to tend to problems quickly and others not to. Participants noted that buses are generally old and, therefore, are never going to be in optimal conditions. They also warned that public transportation is not a lucrative enterprise and that maintenance budgets have been hit by economic hardships. They argued that buses use between $80 and $95 of gasoline per day and that the government subsidy is only $400 per bus. Keeping bus fare fixed at twenty cents and providing such a low subsidy, was said to leave owners with very small profits, sometimes insufficient to handle rising maintenance costs. Operators claimed that any repairs required because of accidents, are partially or totally paid by them. A participant maintained that owners even make them pay for missed runs while the bus is being repaired. Focus group discussions revealed that, for owners, the buses’ appearance is less important than mechanical conditions. Drivers described missing handles, damaged seats, graffiti, and holes on the floor, and claimed that owners rarely fixed these problems. Operators also depicted how they patched cosmetic issues. Some participants sustained, however, that owners hire cleaning crews to clean buses every night. b) Operators’ appearance Drivers recognized that they often look dirty and explained that this is because they handle cash from bus fares all day long, are exposed to the streets’ polluted environment, and have to check buses’ mechanical conditions every morning. They also acknowledge that passengers react negatively to their dirty appearance. Drivers added that owners used to provide uniforms, but don’t anymore for some time. 5.2 Types of crime in public transport Operators’ discussions about crime revealed information about victimization patterns, incident response, and strategies to avoid being targeted. 5.2.1 Victimization patterns Operators’ accounts about bus crimes offered data on the most common types of offenses, offenders, victims, weapons, targets, and modus operandi. Gang-related crimes and sexual transgressions were also discussed.
  • 25. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 22 a) Types of crimes Participants described property and violent crimes. Specifically, thefts, robberies, extortions, and homicides. They also referred to sexual transgressions which are detailed separately. b) Victims Drivers’ accounts of user victimization involved people from both genders as victims of thefts or robberies. However, they argued that offenders prefer to target women and, similarly to user focus groups, associated this with females representing less of a threat to perpetrators because of their relatively smaller physical size and diminished probability of resisting during attacks. Operators were also portrayed as victims during crime discussions. Although robberies and extortions were described, most accounts involved homicides. Extortion of bus owners was mentioned, but not talked about it in detail. c) Perpetrators Participants asserted that gang members do not engage in petty crimes and focus on extorting drivers and bus owners. Most homicide perpetrators described by focus groups also belonged to gangs. Operators’ debates on gang-related crime are discussed separately. Drivers stated that thefts and robberies are mostly committed by common criminals. Some participants suggested that the pool of offenders is limited and that most crimes are committed by the same people, who get on and off different routes and buses looking for victims. Some operators even claimed that customers know thieves and robbers, and get off the bus when they board. Drivers emphasized repeatedly that offenders have an unsuspecting demeanor and look just like everyone else. Criminal incidents described by participants, involved female and male offenders. One driver even argued that women are more aggressive perpetrators. d) Modus Operandi Most incidents described by operators involved two or more offenders working in coordination, who get on the bus, and wait to target victims until it passes through an area in which their detection is more difficult. Some drivers argued that offenders even pay bus fare in order to blend in. Various participants explained that before offenders start targeting victims, one of them goes up to the driver and stays there, warns him that they are about to start robbing passengers, sometimes instructs not to stop while crimes are being committed or to deviate from the route’s run, and, finally, orders the operator to stop the bus so all perpetrators can flee. Other offenders were said to make a public announcement, demanding money from users. Operator descriptions of these situations depicted offenders as unarmed and conveyed physical intimidation as their primary threat.
  • 26. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 23 Participants also discussed incidents where offenders disguised themselves as street vendors or performers, to scope for potential victims among users and, consequently, target them themselves or pass the information onto other offenders. One driver assured that most robberies and thefts last about two to three minutes. Focus groups briefly discussed robberies against drivers, describing few cases in which single or multiple assailants boarded the bus and demanded operators to give them specific amounts of money from the cash box or empty its contents into bags. e) Weapons Operators assured that offenders use both sharp weapons and firearms, but some argued that handguns are more common now than in the past. Few incidents described involved fake weapons, like toy pistols or sharp wires. Driver depictions of weapon usage during the commission of crimes, involved injuring victims who resisted and bystanders, with knives and firearms. f) Gang-related crimes Focus group discussions about gangs, portrayed them as powerful criminal organizations, which exercise a high level of influence and control where they operate. Participants described situations in which communities are dominated by gangs and, thus, residents and commuters have to respect their rules. Operators argued that gang members work at bus companies and even own buses, conveying that public transportation is a highly infiltrated industry. Some drivers claimed that they are extorted by gangs, who demand a daily fee of one dollar. They assured that if they pay, gangs don’t bother them. Focus groups briefly discussed extortion of owners. Nonetheless, it was described as a widespread issue and associated it with gang criminal activities and others who have taken advantage of the problem. One operator explained that his son, who worked also as a bus driver, had been killed a few months ago because the owner of the bus he operated had not paid the money demanded by gangs. Another driver criticized that operators are targeted by gangs and all that owners do is replace them after they are attacked. Participants also maintained that some drivers and bus owners take advantage of the prevalent extortion problem and victimize the companies they work for or the competition. g) Sexual transgressions Drivers’ descriptions of sexual transgressions mostly involved male passengers exploiting overcrowding to insidiously rub against or touch female victims. Participants explained that this tends to take place during peak hours, when overcrowding is at its worse. One operator discussed an incident in which a nurse was being abducted by an acquaintance and was taking her to another location to allegedly rape her, but was reported to the police by other users and arrested.
  • 27. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 24 5.2.2 Incident response Participants’ discussions described how drivers and the police respond to crime incidents. a) Operators Drivers argued that they have to comply with offender instructions and generally do not interfere during or after victimization, because they fear retaliation. Participants explained that they are aware that this makes customers think that they collaborate with offenders, but claim that they can’t intervene because they are easy targets for vengeful perpetrators. b) Authorities Focus group discussions about police portrayed police officers as lazy, corrupt, and focused on harassing bus drivers. Drivers complained that police agents ask for bribes in exchange of not writing transit violations, usually demanding less money than the amount that the operator would have to pay for the fine. They also claimed police officers detain criminals, but if their loot is valuable enough, they keep it, and let perpetrators loose. 5.2.3 Strategies to reduce victimization Drivers asserted that their job entails stressful working conditions and great personal risks, and claimed that they would quit immediately if they were offered any other job, regardless of the industry. During focus group debates, participants predominantly related risks with crime-related issues, particularly with gangs and common criminals. a) Gangs Drivers’ discussions suggest that operators can do very little to reduce their chances of being targeted by gangs: pay money extorted by gangs on time and avoid altercations with gang members. Participants, on the other hand, described an ample array of situations in which drivers, unknowingly, mistreat passengers associated with gangs or denied them privileges, putting themselves at risk. The circumstances that were mentioned were diverse, varying from denying a free ride to giving an inappropriate compliment to gang members’ girlfriends or relatives. Additionally, there is little operators can do to minimize the probabilities of being targeted to preassure bus owners who refuse to pay extortion. As stated before, gangs tend to retaliate against drivers when bus owners don’t pay extortion. Operators noted that witnessing gang-related crime also puts them at risk and that there is nothing they could do to avoid these situations. b) Common criminals Although some incidents described by drivers suggest that they are also targeted by offenders not affiliated with gangs, participants acknowledged that passengers are at greater risk. Operators said that they comply with instructions given by criminals in order to reduce their chances of being victimized.
  • 28. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 25 However, focus groups described a few incidents in which drivers were injured during attacks perpetrated against passengers. Drivers, additionally, explained that they reduce their chances of being robbed by making several cash deliveries or deposits, at least one at the end of each route run. 5.3 Suggestions to improve public transportation given by participants Drivers’ proposals to upgrade public transportation in El Salvador were aimed at improving order and controlling crime. 5.3.1 Order Propositions related to increasing order focused on reducing traffic, increasing owners’ income, and decreasing stressful work condition for operators. a) Reduce traffic Operators suggested deploying transit police officers to help alleviate traffic and designating separate circulation routes for private cars and buses. Additionally, they proposed the creation of differentiated work schedules that would distribute the current heavy traffic at peak hours to more manageable levels over a longer period of time. b) Increase owners’ income Drivers argued that, under current conditions, public transportation is not profitable for owners and, as result, buses are not given appropriate cosmetic and mechanical maintenance. Consequently, participants suggested that the Government provides financial support to owners or allow them to increase bus fares. c) Reduce stressful work conditions for operators Operators propounded various measures to reduce their stressful working conditions: creating two work shifts, paying drivers a fixed salary with benefits, providing transportation from and to their homes, and reducing the maximum number of runs per shift. 5.3.2 Crime Suggestions to curve crime inside public transportation focused on police deployment and the installation of surveillance systems. a) Police Drivers claimed that, currently, police presence is scarce and, thus, proposed that more police agents should be deployed, but warn that their effectiveness should be improved.
  • 29. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 26 b) Cameras Operators explained that other measures like panic buttons have proven not to be effective and that increasing the deployment of police agents is remote. Alternatively, some proposed the installation and monitoring of surveillance cameras and argued they have proven to be a valuable deterrence tool. 6. PUBLIC TRANSPORT STAFF AND POLICE AGENTS This section of the document summarizes the information elicited through focus groups with police agents in which disorder and crime in public transportation was addressed. As mentioned before, it was impossible to procure the participation of officials from the Viceministry of Transport. 6.1 Disorder and incivilities Police officers recognized that Salvadoran public transportation is chaotic and associated this exclusively with characteristics of bus operation. Discussions about disorder also revealed transit enforcement shortcomings. 6.1.1 Bus operation The competitive environment in which the system functions and the elevated level of discretion awarded to operators, were identified by participants as underlying issues linked to disorder and incivilities in bus operations. a) Competitive environment Police agents explained that buses are driven dangerously, constantly breaking transit laws and public transportation regulations, and claimed that this is a main source of disorder. Officers mentioned that the most common transgressions committed by drivers involve using mobile telephones while driving, invading lanes, driving with open doors, using worn-out tires, speeding, driving with a suspended or expired license, dangerous driving, not signaling, and disrespecting traffic signs. Participants also said that accidents occur frequently in public transportation and cited running over pedestrians and collisions against static and moving objects, as the most common circumstances. Agents acknowledged that the inappropriate driving style of bus operators is incited by bus owners’ practices. Specifically, they contended that owners set goals for bus drivers and that, in turn, operators race to comply with those standards. Participants also cited conditions are further complicated by other factors that flood traffic, noting impractical bus stop designs, the operation of mototaxis, and saturation of routes. b) Operators’ discretion Officers identified unauthorized bus stops, allowed by the ample discretion awarded to operators, as a source of disorder in public transportation. Some agents explained that buses are forced to stop at unofficial bus stops because they have to pick-up as much passengers as they can, to fulfill the goals set
  • 30. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 27 forth by bus owners, and also because authorized bus stops are always full, on account of overwhelming route saturation. However, most discussions about the topic assured that this issue has also a cultural component, in that users have become to expect drivers to stop wherever they ask them to and, as a result, seek to take the bus or disembark it as close they can to their point of origin or destination, respectively. One agent recognized bus personalization as a source of disorder. Particularly, he mentioned allowing the bus driver to play his music at an excessive volume during bus runs. 6.1.2 Enforcement Participants portrayed their interactions with bus operators as tense situations. Officers explained that drivers work under stressful conditions and that enforcement complicates things further for them, as it represents another problem they have to deal with during their job. Operators were said to react aggressively when police stopped them and verbally attack agents and that this interactions ultimately resulted in officers issuing transit infractions. Drivers ripping up their copies of tickets and mocking officers by reminding them that they never pay fines because they get pardoned by authorities, was cited as a common occurrence. Consistent with this attitude, officers claimed that enforcement is curved by the political influence possessed by the public transportation industry and the corruption of public officials by individual bus owners and owners’ associations. Agents argued that bus owners call corrupt transit police commanders, either directly or through a corrupt politician, to get out of tickets or to direct enforcement efforts elsewhere. Participants also suggested that corrupt officials at the Vice-ministry of Public Transport issue permits to unsuitable drivers. Additionally, officers assured that during electoral campaigns, politicians arrange massive pardons for bus drivers and owners to secure their votes. Focus group discussions about transit enforcement also depicted traffic laws as lenient with owners and was said to concentrate only on operators. Agents explained the issue persist because owners only have to change drivers if they become a problem and, thus, are not motivated to implement rigorous recruiting and supervision mechanisms. Officers noted that enforcement is also negatively affected by scarce police resources. 6.2 Types of crime in public transport Police agents’ revealed important information about victimization patterns and incident response. 6.2.1 Victimization patterns Officer accounts about bus crimes conveyed the most common types of offenses, victims, perpetrators, weapons, targets, and modus operandi. Sexual transgressions were also briefly discussed.
  • 31. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 28 a) Types of crimes Agents cited robberies, thefts, and homicides as the most frequent crimes perpetrated in public transportation. They also acknowledged that sexual transgressions were a widespread issue. b) Victims Officer descriptions of crimes inside the transport system included both male and female victims. Nevertheless, they assured that women are targeted more frequently because they represent less of a threat to offenders, a similar explanation as that provided by user and driver focus groups. c) Perpetrators Discussions differed regarding the importance of the physical appearance of perpetrators. Some participants claimed that offenders are undistinguishable from other passengers, because they don’t dress or look differently and, sometimes, even wear disguises to scope and approach targets unsuspiciously. Other agents contended that perpetrators usually have shaved heads and wear gang-like attire. Similarly, part of the officers assured that most public transportation offenders belonged to gangs and others suggested that gang members extort drivers and owners, but refrain from targeting users. Participants described incidents in which common criminals pretended to be affiliated to gangs in an effort to intimidate victims. Agents, on the other hand, coincided in that offenders are usually young males or females. d) Modus Operandi Officers generally portrayed bus crimes as planned offenses committed by multiple perpetrators working in coordination. Some agents assured that some offenders work alone and others, however, warned that it might appear that some criminals work alone, but that they are in fact collaborating with unsuspicious bystanders. Participant accounts, similar to other focus groups, suggested that offenders select the location where the bus is boarded, scope for potential targets, move in while transiting through an area that offers low probabilities of being detected or after forcing the driver to deviate from his route, and, finally, exit at low risk locations, carefully timing each step according to the chosen bus route run. Officers said perpetrators sometimes pose as street vendors or performers, or use actual ones, to identify potential victims unsuspectedly. Other offenders were said to stand up and demand money from all passengers using veiled threats, and afterwards walk down aisles and collect cash from users. e) Weapons Handguns and knives were cited by participants as the most common weapons used by offenders. Nevertheless, some of the incidents described by agents only involved physical intimidation.
  • 32. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 29 f) Targets Participants mentioned mobile phones, cash, and jewelry as the most prevalent targets sought by offenders. g) Sexual transgressions Officers claimed that sexual transgressions against women are very common in public transportation. Perpetrators, they argued, take advantage of overcrowding to touch and rub against female passengers. Participants added that women rarely report incidents, because they do not know that the occurrence is considered a crime or simply because the bureaucracy involved is overwhelming. 6.2.2 Responses to bus crimes During discussions about bus crimes, police officers talked about elements that shape the drivers, users, and police responses to crimes in public transportation. a) Drivers and users Focus groups portrayed opposing reactions to the commission of crimes for users and operators. Drivers were said to seldom report offenses and, when they, it’s only if they were victims. Officers explained that users, on the other hand, are willing to provide information about illicit activities, but only if they are kept anonymous and avoid the bureaucracy that formally reporting crimes entails. Some agents claimed that people are keen to make facial gestures from buses’ windows to patrol cars to report ongoing crimes or call emergency numbers, tip lines, or the officers’ private mobile telephones to provide information. However, participants complained that, when officers intervene and detain suspects, passengers are reluctant to testify as victims or witnesses to crimes and, thus, perpetrators can’t be processed. b) Police Agents offered contradicting information about the institutional response of Salvadoran law enforcement to bus crime. Some officers assured that there were centrally sanctioned operational initiatives that exclusively target crimes committed in public transportation. They specifically mentioned the “Plan Bus”, which was said to involve uniformed agents patrolling inside bus routes and at bus stops, and undercover police officers travelling inside buses. Other participants explained that these plans were no longer being implemented and that, currently, there was no uniform, centralized response initiative to reduce bus crimes. Nevertheless, focus groups briefly described various isolated efforts that involved coordinating foot patrol deployments with bus owners or individually sending uniformed police officers to patrol dangerous bus stops and buses. The new police CCTV network installed in the streets of San Salvador, was additionally mentioned as a generic law enforcement measure that is being used to respond to bus crimes. Agents’ accounts about training were also contradicting. Some officers claimed that, at some point of their careers, they received training specifically to respond to bus incidents. Others argued that there is no specific training or institutional protocol that guides their response to bus crimes.
  • 33. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 30 Participants identified several issues that hamper their efforts to prevent and abate offenses inside buses. Scarce police resources was the most cited. Officers contended that calls for service far exceed the coverage that can be provided by the amount of agents and vehicles currently patrolling the streets. They added that dispatching patrols to emergencies is further complicated by scarce and deficient communications capabilities. The emergency 911 dispatcher system was depicted as unreliable and slow. Furthermore, police response to bus crimes was said to be conditioned by officers’ fear of being detained or otherwise sanctioned for intervening. Agents explained that there are many cases in which officers respond to armed-suspect situations that result in perpetrators being justifiably injured or killed by the police and the responding team is ultimately detained or penalized. Participants also claimed that offenders take advantage of legal loopholes that allow them to victimize bus users without punishment. This contention was illustrated by arguing that when offenders stand up and demand money, but don’t overtly threaten with physical harm, they are not breaking any laws. 6.3 Suggestions to improve public transportation given by participants Officers’ suggestions to improve order and reduce crime in public transport were relatively scarce. 6.3.1 Order Agents’ proposals to improve order in public transportation were scant and concentrated on providing training for users and drivers, submitting the current pool of drivers to a strict cleansing process to root- out those unfitted for the job, reforming transit laws to increase penalties, and restructuring routes so that not too many coincide and the adequate amount of buses circulate to meet public demands. 6.3.2 Crime Officers’ suggestions to reduce crime in buses sought to enhance enforcement capabilities and powers. Agents propounded that more resources should be given to the police to improve its response to crime. Installing cameras inside buses and deploying more police was patrols were also proposed by participants. Officers also called for legal reforms that award response teams more authority and power during intervention procedures.
  • 34. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 31 7. BUS OWNERS The focus group discussions in which bus owners and company representatives participated provided a different perspective towards the underlying issues that affect disorder and crime in public transportation related to government practices. 7.1 Disorder and Incivilities Owners acknowledged that order does not prevail in Salvadoran public transportation and mentioned several of the elements identified by other focus groups as sources of disorder. During debates about disorder, participants mentioned overcrowding, dangerous driving, poor cosmetic and mechanical bus conditions, negative interpersonal interactions, and unreliable service. Nonetheless, in contrast with previous discussions, these issues were ultimately attributed, in large part, to bad government practices, which were said to adversely affect bus operations. Proprietors’ interventions, overall, denoted little trust towards the government. Corruption among public officials and the predominance of political interests over technical approaches, were cited as the factors that fuel most the State’s negative responses and strategies, which were said to consequently erode the quality of public transportation. All focus groups blamed disorder on these issues, but discussions suggest that owners’ capabilities and ensuing efforts to reduce disorder and incivilities vary substantially. 7.1.1 Prevalence of political interests Owners argued that politics have put financial pressure on their operations and scoured the Government’s regulating capabilities. a) Financial pressure Focus groups discussions suggested that the VMT is heavily influenced by the political interests of the ruling party. Participants argued that the resulting measures adopted by their regulating authority, have weakened their finances and, therefore, their capabilities to control disorder and incivilities within bus operations. Owners assured repeatedly that their businesses have progressively become unprofitable and justified that these asphyxiating circumstances did not allow them to generate the necessary resources to provide proper maintenance for buses, repair mechanical and cosmetic issues promptly and adequately, acquire newer vehicles, and appease the operators’ harsh working conditions. Bus fare was the most common issue cited by owners. They explained that the Government keeps bus fare low, far below the minimum suggested by various technical studies, to avoid weathering the electoral and political onslaught that increasing it would entail. The optimal bus fares proposed by proprietors who claimed to be quoting them out of research evaluations, diverged substantially from the current fare of 20 cents, ranging from 30 to 60 cents.
  • 35. PREVENTING PUBLIC TRANSPORT CRIME IN EL SALVADOR 32 Participants argued, on the other hand, that the ruling political party intends to take over public transportation through Alba Petroleos1 . Owners justified their concerns by claiming that high-ranking party officials, who also serve as high-level executives at Alba Petroleos, are key partners at companies involved with the operation of the State-sponsored Integrated Transport System for the Metropolitan Area of San Salvador (SITRAMSS)2 . This supposed intention was said to be the motivation behind several recent measures that have further limited the bus companies’ liquidity and profitability. Focus groups suggested that the VMT favors a small group of bus owners and associations directed by people close and loyal to the ruling party. Some owners proposed that the Government’s objective is to reduce the number of bus owners through economic pressure and, thus, gradually award control of the sector to people linked and trusted by the ruling party. In this context, proprietors added that, although bus fare has been kept constant, government subsidies for bus drivers, which were said to be intended to compensate low bus fares, have been cut and, moreover, not delivered since 2012. Participants maintained that this political objective and the consequent official approach, have affected communication and coordination between public transportation business people and the central Government, limiting their ability to work together. They sustained that strategies, initiatives, and reforms are not discussed through open and participatory venues, but in close and restricted meetings. Furthermore, owners contended that public officials harass those who lay outside their circle of trust, withdrawing bus route concessions and using other predatory measures that put economic pressure on unwanted bus owners. Focus groups discussions suggested that proprietors’ finances have also been more indirectly affected by the ruling party’s political interests. Participants assured that the last Government administration negotiated with gangs for political reasons, inadvertently empowering these criminal groups, which have been extorting public transport for years. Owners noted that, since then, enforcement efforts against gangs and extortions are weaker, and gangs are stronger and have gained more influence and control. They also suggested that extortion is a grave problem that greatly affects public transportation. Situations described by participants conveyed gangs’ rising power and territorial dominance as key elements that affect the quality of bus services. Focus groups discussions revealed that gangs don’t allow buses to enter certain neighborhoods and get to approve who is hired to operate buses that run through their turfs. Drivers were also said to have formed alliances with gangs and jointly offer illegal 1 Alba Petroleos is an ample business conglomerate that functions as a public-private partnership, initially between municipalities controlled by the ruling party, National Liberation Front Farabundo Martí (FMLN), and the foreign company PDV Caribe, owned by the Venezuelan government. After being created in 2006, Alba Petroleos immediate goal was to start supplying Venezuelan gasoline to Salvadorans, under the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA), an initiative promoted by Hugo Chávez to rally political support among Latin American countries. Since then, the company has grown and, consequently, ventured into different industries, including liquid gas, food, medicines, transport, and energy. Its expansion has been flagged for alleged clientelism (read more). 2 More details about SIMTRAMSS can be found at the VMT website http://www.vmt.gob.sv/index.php?option=com_phocadocumentation&view=sections&Itemid=179

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