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When public transit isn't safe for everyone

Posted by Natalie Runnerstrom on 8/9/18 2:30 PM

woman-transit-bus-safety-national-womens-day                 Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash

The #MeToo movement has made women's rights the talk of the town — not just the base-level right to vote and own property, but the right to exist in the world the way men do every day. While some imagine women feel most vulnerable at a bar or in a dark alleyway, many have reported being scared to use the public transportation services on which they rely for daily routines. 

Punishment fits the crime

A major issue plaguing Metro officials is not being able to enforce rules as seriously as other professionals such as flight attendants or postal workers. Repeat offenders are allowed to target the same trains and stations as long as they please, because officials can only place temporary bans (anywhere from 24 hours to 180 days) on individuals specific to where an incident took place. A complete ban is considered too harsh, as many people depend on metros and subways for work. 

This problem reaches beyond passengers as well; transit employees have just as much to fear when going to work each day. Currently, the best officials can do is ask their local court to ban an offender from a particular station where an assaulted or harassed employee works, but this isn't really teaching people to not commit a crime in the first place.

DC-metro-silver-line-female-safety-transit-public-assault-harassment

Sorry, you have to be a woman to ride this ride

Separating the sexes seems to be the default solution for some countries. India, where 95% of women report feeling unsafe when using public transit, has female-only taxis and buses. Pakistan rolled out a women-only rickshaw service in addition to women-only buses, which can also be seen in Mexico, Thailand, and Guatemala. Another idea? Female-only trains roam the tracks in Japan, Indonesia, and Brazil.

Many are concerned, however, that this is not a long-term solution for the problem, merely a bandaid for a gushing wound.

a poster-sized education

DC kicked off an anti-harassment campaign with posters and messages. Since 2012, they've evolved to not only help prevent unwanted advances, but also to show support by providing helpful information for victims of assault and harassment. London released a video in 2013 encouraging women to report any unwanted behavior while using public transit.

Have these campaigns improved anything? There was about a 40% increase in sexual assault reports from 2016 to 2017, which some advocacy groups see as more women reporting assaults and harassments rather than an increase in frequency. In the year following the video's launch in London there were 36% more reports of assaults, leading to 40% more arrests

The important thing is that more and more women are speaking out about this issue, giving victims a platform to feel comfortable and confident to report a problem. Hopefully the public won't be too far behind on understanding that if you see something inappropriate happening, then say something. ✊🏽

Topics: Mobility, Smart Cities, Design