Cat-calling Is, Among Other Things, a Transport-safety Issue

On Monday August 26, 2019 I attended a panel discussion on the safety issues women  face in relation to transport. It was organized by the DC chapter of Women in Transportation Seminar. (See event picture below.)


Here is a summary of  my takeaway.

While women comprise more than 50 percent of transit ridership, they face safety concerns. Women and members of the LGBTQ community experience harassment and incidents that threaten their physical safety while riding transit. As a result, women pay more for transport; they are forced to use taxi/Uber at night. Unfortunately, women face harassment during the day as well. For example, one of the panelists mentioned that 30 percent of harassment complaints the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) receives take place in the morning.

Women and gender minorities experience harassment and safety issues on trains/buses, metro stations/bus stops, as well as the street. Women currently use transit to a lesser degree than they prefer because of it; they drive more or opt-out of civic engagement. This has tremendous negative consequences on the economy, traffic congestion, and environmental pollution.

Some of the best practices discussed to prevent harassment related to transport include:

  • Preventing crime through environmental design, for example providing ample lighting around bus stops/in metro stations
  • Allowing women to get off buses between stops at night (This is the case in Toronto. I never had to use but I appreciated that it was possible.)
  • Making available real-time information to reduce the amount of waiting and exposure to harassment
  •  Including more women planners to bring perspective into the planning process; including more female transit vehicle operators.
  • Developing non-punitive solutions for offenders because majority of offenders who are racial minorities tend be punished more harshly
  • Awareness (perhaps finding alternatives) to the fact that the introduction of autonomous transit vehicles will remove the safety and emergency function of the vehicle operator

It was an excellent and informative discussion. Two things – perhaps related – stood out in my mind. First: as a female, I have experienced cat-calling on streets throughout my life. When I was younger and living in Ethiopia, where I am originally from, I experienced it much more. It infuriated and forced me to make changes to how I traveled. I thought of cat-calling as a gender-based harassment, which it is. But I never thought of it as a gender-based, transport-safety issue! If a woman has to forgo walking (a transport mode) in order to avoid harassment, she is being limited in the number of transport options she can partake. Second: one of the suggestions discussed as “best practices” to prevent transit-related harassment was including female-transport planners and vehicle operators. I agree. Female transport planners and drivers would provide perspectives and experiences their male counterparts may lack. But how about including female-transport planners from various linguistic and ethnic communities? Safe mobility for all requires a much more diverse set of perspectives.




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