Graffiti in public transport systems – crime, not art

30 June 2015  •  Author(s): Andrea Soehnchen, Senior Project Manager/Business Developer, and Lindsey Mancini, Security Manager, UITP


Graffiti and vandalism are growing concerns of the public transport industry. Whilst operators strive to provide high-quality services for their passengers, graffiti tags and pieces have a substantial impact. The presence of graffiti within a public transport system gives the impression of a neglected environment and negatively affects the comfort and security perception of passengers. Furthermore, if graffiti sprayers can penetrate the system, who else could? The UITP’s Andrea Soehnchen (Senior Project Manager/Business Developer) and Lindsey Mancini (Security Manager) take a look at how graffiti crime causes major costs for cleaning, repair and extra security measures to prevent further incidents.

Whilst the public sector has a rather clear view on the phenomenon, in the public mind graffiti is often seen as less of a criminal act and more a life-style issue, with the additional challenge of the ‘romantic’ idea of the graffiti scene as underground ‘artists’. However, public transport operators and passengers ultimately pay the price.

Trends of graffiti in public transport

According to an international survey of UITP members , graffiti incidents for most are either stable in number or increasing in frequency, indicating that the problem is here to stay for the time being. Small tags (a stylised signature) and large pieces (complex graffiti that can cover entire walls, carriages or trains) are the most common, affecting 85% and 78% of respondents respectively. Acid etching is less common, affecting 45%. Graffiti tends to appear on rolling stock and in stations, with tunnels, bridges and trackside also affected. However, all areas of the infrastructure can be targeted (bus stops, signal rooms, viaducts etc.). Rolling stock, being the most common target, is most often attacked in depots or in sidings; however, 59% of respondents also report attacks occurring during operating service.

From the survey, 96% of respondents suffer graffiti from local sprayers. However, more than half also report sprayers from other countries. The costs related to graffiti vary greatly between respondents, mainly due to different ways of calculating both direct and indirect costs incurred. One respondent reported up to €17 million per year, with another indicating that graffiti costs represent 1% of total costs of their operations. Many respondents report annual costs to be in the millions of Euros. For the majority, costs are either rising or are stable…

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