As Christopher Carey reports from London’s Cities Today , as public transport passenger figures move towards pre-pandemic levels, a growing number of cities around the world are re-assessing how they can make travel safer and more inclusive.
Over the past two decades, reports of attacks and anti-social behaviour directed at staff and passengers have been increasing throughout the world. While developing cities, especially in South Asia, continue to see the most serious attacks, countries with advanced economies are accounting for an increasing number of incidents.
Women, in particular, report feeling more and more unsafe on public transport, as well as more vulnerable than men to attacks and harassment of a sexual nature.
To address this problem, some cities have made changes to vehicles and station infrastructure, including the installation of brighter lighting, cameras and emergency buttons, and ensuring a visible presence of station staff. Other cities have gone further and involved passengers in prevention efforts.
In October 2021, Transport for London (TfL) launched a zero-tolerance campaign on sexual harassment.
The initiative, which included an online poster campaign and social media posts, aimed to challenge harassment and send a clear message to offenders that they will not be tolerated.
Last month, the transport operator stepped up its efforts with a new initiative that encouraged bystanders to be proactive and intervene if they witnessed sexual harassment on public transport.
Although overall levels of public transport control have not increased in London, there have been more targeted operations in certain areas. TfL has also introduced a new team of transport enforcement officers, who are responsible for reducing anti-social behaviour.
In research published last year by transport watchdog London TravelWatch, nearly half of women said they had stopped travelling to London at certain times of day because of concerns for their personal safety.
The figures also revealed an 81% year-on-year increase in sexual harassment of women and girls, although this has been put down to a growth in the reporting of incidents as a result of the campaign.
In 2015, former U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been an MP for north London since 1983, said he would consider introducing women-only vehicles on public transport to help reduce harassment.
The idea received a strong backlash from many, but the debate about women-only carriages is periodically reignited.
These vehicles are common in several countries, especially in India, Iran, Japan or Egypt, where there have been several high-profile incidents involving sexual violence against women.
A Reuters poll from 2014 asked 6,300 women around the world whether they would feel safer travelling in a single-sex vehicle. The survey, which covered 15 of the world’s largest capital cities and New York, the most populous U.S. city, found that 70% of women had said they would feel safer.
Manila, in the Philippines, was the city where women were most in favour of single-sex transportation, with support from 94% of women followed by Jakarta in Indonesia, Mexico City in Mexico and Delhi in India.