Why more visible penalties are part of plan to boost women's safety on Scottish public transport - Jenny Gilruth

Scotland’s transport system isn’t exactly renowned for its diversity.

As minister for transport, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been the only woman in the room, discussing crucial matters of importance to the transport infrastructure of our country.

We know that not having women at the table – be that on boards or in management – affects decision making. We also know that more women than men rely on Scotland’s public transport network. But in 2022, our transport system in Scotland still doesn’t seem able to listen to, and act on, women’s views and lived experience. That’s got to change.

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As the first female minister for transport in Scotland in two decades, I care deeply about the experience of women and girls on our transport system. When I first undertook the role, my mind turned to those times when I’ve been a lone woman on the last train home to Fife, when I’ve felt intimidated – scared, even.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth. Picture: Network Rail

Unfortunately that experience has been shared by far too many women and girls across the country. That’s why within my first year I wanted a firm focus on women and girls’ safety on public transport, which we know women use more than men.

Every woman and girl has the right to feel safe wherever they go, including how they travel. It’s fundamental to how we access education, jobs and socialise. With the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence underway, it’s a time for all transport providers in Scotland to pause and to reflect on the role they can play in helping to better protect women and girls as they travel.

I met with the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, Lucy D’orsi, in London earlier this week. The British Transport Police, who have responsibility for safety on Scotland’s trains, launched their own campaign earlier this year, focused on women’s safety. The campaign focuses on the use of the 61016 number and on the role of the public in reporting – and it’s particularly important given reports of sexual harassment and sexual offences on the railways have increased by 63 per cent compared to pre pandemic levels. Both the Chief Constable and I have committed to working together on this issue in Scotland, with a particular focus on the by-stander approach.

Our public attitudes survey has been able to provide more Scotland specific data, which shows the level at which people have experienced or witnessed harassment or antisocial behaviour on public transport.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth announced preliminary work towards electrification of the Edinburgh-Fife line in June. Picture: Network Rail

A third of women who took part told us they were concerned about their personal safety in general when using public transport, compared to a quarter of men. A higher proportion of women said that influenced their travel choices. More women than men also said they had been the victim of harassment when using public transport, most commonly in the evening.

We will shortly publish further in-depth data on women’s experiences of Scotland’s transport system. I look forward to working with stakeholders to use that data to inform the systemic change that must inform better experiences of public transport for Scotland’s women and girls.

Part of that work will require improvements to how incidents are reported, more visible and stringent enforcement of penalties to act as a deterrent, as well as more training for transport staff who are often on the front line of anti-social behaviour. It will also require action from Scotland’s transport providers in supporting a cohesive approach to women’s safety, which allows them to travel without living in fear.

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It is not good enough to continue to expect women and girls to adapt their behaviour on public transport or indeed, anywhere. Men need to change how they behave, how they engage and their attitudes. We need to raise awareness, to educate, to provide training and resources. We need to look at the design of our public transport system and infrastructure, to ensure that it feels safer and more secure.

But we also need our transport network to better listen to the views of women and girls. Scotland’s transport system – from our roads to our railways – can’t just be for the boys in 2022. It has to evolve, in a post pandemic era, to better reflect the people it serves. A safer transport system for women will be a better transport system for all.

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