An empty bus stop in a suburban street at night time; An empty bus stop in a suburban street at night time;

How do safe night-time journeys impact our economy?

Night-time is an integral part of any city’s commercial, cultural and social fabric. It promises growth, vibrancy and cultural opportunities for cities and is a catalyst for reshaping nightlife.

Cities across Australia are promoting the night-time economy, and almost every state and territory has a night-time mayor or commissioner. With people returning to nightlife, are our cities providing safe and reliable transport options for vulnerable people? And where does transport fit in?

Catching the train home after a day at work can be a starkly different experience at night, after seeing your favourite band or catching up with friends. The city is dark, and there are fewer people around, and, for those most vulnerable in our cities, waiting for the next train can feel like an eternity. The ten-minute walk after the train feels even longer in the dark.

This is not a new scenario. For a long time, we have neglected to design for not only shift workers in entertainment and hospitality but essential night workers in health, construction, and warehousing.

Night-time transport options and environments can impact community participation in the night-time economy. Through place-making and design, we can make transport an integrated part of the night-time experience, enhancing, rather than detracting, from a night out.

Planning safe night-time journeys

Providing people with connected spaces and safe night-time journeys relies on careful planning. Public spaces need the flexibility to be appealing at all stages of the day and night, with safety and wellbeing at the core of their design. 

For public transport, this includes planning for the location of stops, adequate lighting, security on platforms, and frequency of services. Cities across Australia recognise this and are taking action. 

Sydney’s York, Clarence and Kent Streets (YCK) precinct is Australia’s first Purple Flag accredited public space. Purple Flag is an international accreditation programme rewarding cities for creating safe and vibrant destinations after dark. The programme recognises movement as a core standard for a safe and thriving precinct, explaining ‘getting home safely after an evening out is crucial, as is the ability to move around the centre on foot with ease.’ Sydney is now piloting four other precincts for accreditation1.

In 2020, The City of Adelaide launched the Home Zone project to keep people safe while they wait for transport home after a Saturday night out in the city. The project introduces a central city location offering four after-midnight bus stops and a dedicated ride collection point where people can wait together2. The Home Zones provide a safer place to wait for transport between midnight on Saturday and 6am Sunday with surveillance cameras, police patrols and better lighting.

Case study: Perceptions of safety lighting study

Lighting is an integral design factor influencing people’s perceptions of safety in public places at night, including their transport journeys home. With quality lighting, waiting for the bus or the 10-minute walk home can be a safer, more enjoyable experience.

Together with Monash University’s XYX Lab and Plan International, using crowdsourced data from Plan International’s Free to Be campaign, we researched women and girls’ perceptions of night-time safety to understand how lighting effects perceptions of safety in Melbourne at night.

The research studied 84 sites in Melbourne to understand and identify the role that lighting plays in the experiences of women and girls. Data collected through surveys and community night walks found public transport sites were perceived as proportionally more unsafe than safe, requiring more interventions around lighting to make an impact on perceptions of safety. 

This research is reinforced by many other studies across Australia, including Transport for New South Wales’ 2023 Safer Cities Program survey, which found 59 per cent of women do not feel safe after dark in public spaces, and nine in ten women agreed safety influenced how they move around the city.3

A line of people holding torches facing a brick wall in a city street at night. They are looking at light patterns A line of people holding torches facing a brick wall in a city street at night. They are looking at light patterns
We conducted a series of night-time walks to collect data on women and girl’s perceptions of safety at night in Melbourne.

Night-times will benefit from holistic and community-led design

It’s clear we are no longer designing for Monday to Friday, nine until five, for people who use public transport or their private vehicle to exit the city. We must think about public spaces holistically and question how they will be used in the evening – will women and children feel and be safe walking around the city at night?

Answering these questions takes a variety of disciplines, including lighting designers and scientists, transportation mobility and walkability experts, social researchers, planning and design experts, public space managers, architects, artists and digital place makers. 

We must take a community-led approach and merge expertise and data with lived experience. Working together, we can create vibrant cities with thriving night-time economies and safer journeys home, benefitting everyone.