Investments in Transit Must Ensure Women’s Safety

Image: Ono Kosuki/Pexels

As the Biden administration begins to advance its Build Back Better agenda and its infrastructure bill begins to take shape, as a nation we must make a concerted effort to ensure that these investments truly make us better off. Since public transit and passenger rail are expected to be big winners of upcoming public spending, we must plan these projects to help women feel safe riding trains, buses, and metros.

Why This Matters: The recent murder of 33-year-old British woman Sarah Everard has fueled a massive outcry around the world on how women do not feel safe in public spaces.

It’s not just women in countries in Afghanistan that are reluctant to use public transit (as a new IFC report highlights), American women pay more than men for transportation services as they do not feel safe riding public transportation at night and opt for taxis and rideshares. In fact, women are significantly less likely — about half as likely as men — to take advantage of a new rail line near their house due to safety concerns.

Getting single-occupancy vehicles off the road is a crucial part of reducing our national greenhouse gas emissions, but as we plan the transit systems of tomorrow we have to ensure that all Americans feel safe using them.

What Are The Solutions? This is of course is a complicated answer but public policy can be enacted to better protect vulnerable groups like women and people of color on public transit. As StreetsBlog wrote, in 2018 Oregon Rep. Peter Defazio,  introduced legislation to require transit agencies to protect riders and employees from sexual assault. But the bill didn’t go anywhere.

The Mineta Institute did a study on best practices addressing women’s safety on transit.

  • One measure they found was helpful was allowing “night stops” like they do in Canada and Sweden.
  • These policies allow women to ask the bus driver to stop at any location — including locations that are not posted bus stops — during nighttime hours. The driver is supposed to allow only the woman to exit at those stops.

Additionally, the Mineta study recommends some common-sense recommendations like,

  • Having women be a part of the transit planning process (duh!)
  • Using data and crime reports to assess which stops need better safety funding
  • Planning a “whole journey approach” as parking lots near transit stops also pose danger to women, not just the ride itself
  • And other programs like security technology in transportation settings, information and media campaigns (such as anti-harassment messages on bus shelters and stations); and specific policies (e.g. escort programs, cab vouchers, request-stop programs) that intend to decrease the fear of women riders

The bottom line: Men and women use public transportation differently, and these differences should help shape the design and implementation of transit systems–a one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it. This awareness will also create urban and suburban spaces that give people a range of mobility options and lead to smarter cities.

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