Our transport system has a long way to go before it is truly equitable, with gender playing a significant factor in increased fear and anxiety about using public transport safely. This is not to say that exclusion is deliberate – in fact in our ‘Building Barriers through Bias’ study, we found that almost everyone we surveyed working in transport believed transport should be universally accessible (99%). But over a third had considered the needs of a protected characteristic group, such as sex, disability or sexual orientation, less than once a week, and less than a fifth had directly engaged with a representative from these groups to inform an Equality Impact Assessment.
We all have biases. These can even be in contrast with our considered beliefs. But there appears to be a disparity between the views and actions of transport professionals which may be preventing transport from being truly accessible.
It's not just about gender. We know a lot about the gender make-up of the transport profession due to legislative requirements, but significantly less is known about the wider demographic characteristics of this profession, such as non-visible and visible disabilities, ethnicity and sexual orientation. But we’d hazard a guess from the scarce existing information that representation is patchy.
The mental burden of staying safe
Why does this matter? We found that, through non-participatory design, unequal access is ‘designed in’ to streetscapes and the public realm, and different perceptions of safety are ignored, excluding certain users.
For instance, our research into ‘Women’s Personal Safety on Public Transport in London’ found that out of 638 women surveyed, 28% had been a victim of a sexual related incident on public transport, and 47% had witnessed an incident taking place. These are shocking statistics that highlight the scale of the problem, following the tragedies of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa’s deaths as they travelled about their business in London.
Indeed from an early age, it is embedded in female minds’ that they must act or behave a certain way to avoid being assaulted whilst travelling in public. Women consider safety from the moment they leave to the moment they arrive and adopt several behavioural mechanisms in response – taking a longer route, changing clothes, holding keys as a defensive weapon.
What can transport design do to alleviate some of this mental burden and help women feel safer?
We suggest co-creating and engaging with women in the design of transport and public spaces, as well as improved education. TfL’s recent campaign is a great example, highlighting all the different examples of sexual harassment, such as cat calling, exposing, cyber flashing, touching, staring and up skirting. Easier reporting, and physical interventions in lighting, CCTV, natural surveillance are important as well as greater enforcement. To really make a difference, all of this needs to be consider from the outset of the design process.
How can we embed this gender inclusive thinking early on in transport design?
In our desire to tackle this diversity challenge, we’ve co-created the Gender Equality Toolkit in Transport (GET-IT) with colleagues from Transport for Greater Manchester and Mott MacDonald, to tackle our unconscious biases related to gender. It helps professionals understand how their work impacts women’s mobility. Underpinned by research and surveys, it helps inform, support, mobilise and unite professionals to consider gender in current and future transport schemes, pointing to examples of positive change such the TramLab Toolkits (1-4), Portsmouth City Council’s Behavioural Change programme and The World Bank’s Handbook for Gender Inclusive Urban Planning and Design.
Do you recognise your unconscious bias? How do you overcome them?
We’d love to hear from you – download our research or contact one of the authors below.