Medan’s City Government Adopts Recommendations from the After Dark Research

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Around a year ago, Pulse Lab Jakarta and UN Women embarked on a joint research to better understand the experiences of women who use public transportation during night time. Whilst there’s been research on women’s safety in public places, due attention has not been given to women who work night-shifts in the small retail sector and rely on public transportation to travel after dark. Harkened to the findings from a 2017 safety audit UN Women conducted in Jakarta that highlights the plight of women travelling in public spaces, PLJ kicked off a human-centred design research, aptly called After Dark. We later organised a co-design workshop in Medan, one of the three cities where the field research was conducted, from which a set of practical recommendations emerged. Earlier this month theMedan City Government announced plans to implement some of these recommendations as part of the Ministry of Transportation’s new Buy The Service (BTS) programme.

Why Medan?

Despite the increasing popularity of ride-hailing transportation applications across Indonesia, the After Dark research revealed that many women in Medan still rely on angkot (a minibus public transportation) when travelling at night. Furthermore, women workers in Medan make up roughly half of the small retail labour market. The small retail sector is a major contributor to Medan’s economy and many businesses operate beyond regular 9–5 office hours. This means many of these women often have to work night shifts. The After Dark co-design workshop held November in Medan was timely, as the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation is set to launch its “Buy The Service” programme in 2020. The overarching objective of this initiative is to holistically improve public transportation services in a way that is more convenient and inclusive for all passengers. Coincidentally, Medan was selected to be one of the 6 cities targeted by this programme. The Medan City Transportation Office saw an opportunity to redesign bus stops throughout the city to provide safer transit points for passengers. As part of its efforts to gather ideas from all corners of the city, Medan City Transportation Office collaborated with Pulse Lab Jakarta and UN Women to organise a co-design workshop, specifically focused on how to develop a safer transit ecosystem for women.

An Immersive Experience

Stakeholders across different groups came together for the co-design workshop held in Medan — Photo credit: UN Women/Putra Djohan

For any co-design workshop to be effective, the right mix of stakeholders is needed to ensure that the results produced are practical and designed in a way to meet both prevailing and future needs. We thus invited representatives from government institutions, local NGOs, academia, as well as designers, technologists and generalists from the local community. Several prototypes with details of their key features were designed.

The most salient takeaway from the discussions was the need to envision bus stops as part of a broader public safety ecosystem — instead of being merely physical, pick up points. Four key recommendations to create such an ecosystem were outlined:

Recommendations that came out of the co-design workshop for improving bus stop designs in Medan

Design practical safety features

We learned from our conversations with women night-shift workers that the quality of public infrastructure influences their perception of safety. Bus stops, as one of the important transit points in a woman’s journey, therefore need to be equipped with certain practical safety features. Beyond the basics of an overhead shelter and bench, bus stops can be made safer by adding a transparent wall on the back and sides to mitigate incidences of theft. Ensuring that there’s adequate lighting at both a bus stop and its surrounding areas is crucial, and selection of location needs to consider not only proximity between stops but also how well it is connected to a reliable public safety reporting system. Such a system might not only include reporting to formal authorities, but also alerting passersby and people in the vicinity.

Facilitate pedestrian access

Many bus stopsin Medan are not linked with adequate pedestrian facilities, and therefore some passengers prefer to wait at sites deemed more accessible. By integrating bus stops with pedestrian paths that meet the standard criteria of comfort, convenience, connectedness and safety, more passengers would be encouraged to make use of them. Pedestrian accessibility includes: Walking distance from key points (such as residential areas and commercial centres), the width of a walking path and its broader accommodation for people with disabilities. In other words, a well-designed physical structure of a bus stop without proper pedestrian facilities may still preclude women who prefer to avoid narrow, shoulder-to-shoulder walking pathways.

Encourage street vendors to become street wardens

The streets of Medan are noticeably punctuated with street vendors during night time. Even when women passengers do not have direct interactions with these vendors, we found that many prefer to wait nearby as the presence of street vendors provides a sense of safety. This is in contrast to the ideals in many modern cities, where street vendors are sometimes perceived as a nuisance to pedestrians. Hence, we discussed the possibility of providing space for street vendors to operate near bus stops, provided that they adhere to pedestrian guidelines and do not limit pedestrian accessibility. As designing such spaces may not always be feasible, the emphasis needs to be placed on incentivising street vendors to act as street wardens and provide a safe space for women who may feel vulnerable.

Engage with the local community

As underscored by these recommendations, in reality a bus stop is not a standalone infrastructure. More importantly, they exist within a local community. People tend to be aware of different forms of violence against women in public spaces, but this does not mean they have the means or understand how to act when an incident occurs. For this reason, we believe it is important to nudge people in the local community to transform from passive eyewitnesses into active bystanders, by launching government-initiated campaigns in public spaces to promote such a response and leveraging technology such as mobile-based games that can educate people about subtle actions to take.

Beyond Medan

An exhibition at the After Dark public discussion that maps the journeys of four After Dark personas — Photo credit: UN Women/Putra Djohan

To mark this year’s 16 Days of Activism Campaign against gender-based violence, a public discussion was held in Jakarta to share findings from the research and trigger open conversations on how to create safer and more inclusive public spaces for women and girls. The UN Resident Coordinator in Indonesia and the Ministry of Transportation’s Head of Research and Development opened the discussion and highlighted the timeliness of the research and the importance of bringing together key stakeholders to explore ideas for user-centred solutions. Similar messages were echoed during the panel discussion which included representatives from the Medan Transportation Office, Coalition for Safe Public Space (KRPA), Gojek and UN Women.

PLJ is excited about by the intent of Medan City Government to adopt the recommendations of the After Dark research, which upon implementation next year may serve as a useful case study for other cities throughout Indonesia.

The After Dark research contributes to a much broader discourse on creating safe and inclusive public spaces for all, and the report presents a variety of opportunities for intervention. We are grateful for all our partners who supported the research from its early design and ideation and during the fieldwork and co-design workshops. We are especially thankful to the respondents we interviewed in Medan, Semarang and Surabaya for allowing us to share their stories.

If you’re interested in exploring how insights from the research might be applied in your city, this is an open invitation to get in touch with the lab:

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