In early 2022, the Minister for Transport announced that the Scottish Government would consult on the safety of women and girls when using public transport, including both public transport users and those working within the public transport system in Scotland.

The research presented below was commissioned following the Minister’s announcement and sought to build on a growing body of international evidence that shows that women and girls have unique travel behaviours and needs, which must be addressed by tailored solutions. Moreover, women are often underrepresented in the strategic planning process for public transport developments. Research has also shown that women and girls (both as transport workers and passengers) view and experience public transport as being less safe compared to their male counterparts.

The consultation commitment also reflected a policy push for ‘mainstreaming’ equality and inclusion work in developing transport policy and the priority to reduce inequalities, as set out in Scotland’s National Transport Strategy (NTS2).

Scotland’s Vision for Justice also includes a transformational priority of making improvements to the justice system which will benefit and empower women by addressing inequality, societal attitudes and structural barriers that perpetuate existing gender inequality. Consulting on this topic also aligned with the Scottish Government’s Equality Outcomes, which aim to reduce inequalities and advance equality of opportunity - most notably across the protected characteristics of age, disability and gender.

Against this backdrop, Transport Scotland commissioned an independent qualitative research project to explore women’s and girls’ views and experiences of personal safety when using public transport in Scotland, the findings of which are presented here.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the research was to provide Scottish-specific evidence and personal testimony from women and girls on the impact of concerns around personal safety on public transport. The specific objectives were to:

  • understand the extent to which concerns around personal safety on public transport and accessing public transport affect women’s and girls’ mobility and travel choices;
  • understand the impact of public transport related issues on women’s and girls’ employment, educational and social opportunities; and
  • seek solutions from stakeholders on addressing personal safety issues on public transport.

The research was a qualitative exercise which placed individuals with lived experience at the centre of engagement, ensuring that their voices are used to directly inform policy aimed at improving the safety of women and girls accessing and using public transport. For the purposes of the research, public transport was defined as including buses, trains, trams, the subway, ferries and domestic flights.


The research primarily involved capturing feedback via one-to-one and group interviews with women and girls living in Scotland with separate recruitment of women who were mainly ‘users’ of public transport and women who were frontline’ workers’ on public transport.

Bespoke topic guides were developed for each cohort which focussed on: the nature, frequency and purpose of public transport use; women’s feelings and perceptions of personal safety on public transport (including discussions around what informed such feelings and perceptions); the interaction between personal circumstances and feelings of safety; personal testimonies of women in relation to specific incidents which had made them or known others feel unsafe when using public transport in the past; any negative impacts or consequences of safety concerns on restricting or limiting women’s travel choices; and discussions around what changes could be made to make women and girls feel safer. In addition, for transport workers, questions were asked around what made them feel safe or unsafe when both at work and travelling to/from work, as well as training received in relation to personal safety to protect both themselves and vulnerable others.

The length of interviews ranged from 18 to 82 minutes and were carried out using a combination of telephone, online and in person approaches to meet the preferences of individual participants. All were digitally voice recorded with permission to allow transcription of interviews for analysis purposes.

An online focus group session with five young women and girls aged 18 and under was also arranged via a national charity (with parental/carer consent), as this was felt to be a more appropriate means of engaging the younger demographic, i.e. participants were able to share experiences together and to compare and contrast their experiences as young female travellers rather than a more intense one-to-one interview approach.

Almost all interviewees were recruited directly via stakeholder organisations using an information sheet shared with potential interviewees in advance. This approach provided a layer of safeguarding in the event that women and girls found discussing their personal experiences distressing or traumatising in any way (albeit the need for this support did not materialise during the fieldwork). Only a small number were recruited via ‘snowballing’ or word of mouth, i.e. the information sheet had been shared by participants with their peers and other volunteers came forward as a result. In such cases, signposting to follow-up support was also available, although was not required by any of those who took part.

In addition, an online stakeholder workshop was held which brought together representatives from transport operators, regional transport partnerships, British Transport Police (BTP) and third sector organisations working with and representing the interests of women and girls, among others. The workshop provided an opportunity for the main emerging themes captured from interviewees to be presented to relevant partners, alongside draft recommendations arising from the research, so that stakeholders could discuss and advise on how best these could be taken forward. Data captured at the workshop was used to help contextualise the feedback from women and girls and situate the recommendations.

Participant profiles

A total of 35 women and girls took part, ranging in age from 14 to 86 years old. Participants came from diverse demographic backgrounds, including those:

  • living in both urban and rural areas of Scotland (including island communities);
  • women living with disabilities (both physical disabilities and learning disabilities);
  • women from minority ethnic communities;
  • women with caring responsibilities (including lone parents);
  • professional/employed women, unemployed women and students;
  • women living in both high and low income communities; and
  • female transport workers (from within both the rail and bus industry).

While women were not sampled specifically on their demographic characteristics, Appendix A shows the number of women who took part and their demographic profiles, which provides context for understanding the findings presented below.

A total of 28 individuals took part in the stakeholder workshop, and Appendix B shows the organisations that were represented.

Research caveats and report presentation

The aim of the research was to present personal testimonies and, as such, this report relies heavily on quotes from women directly so as not to distort or misrepresent the feedback that was given. Analytical commentary is provided to add context to the data but the words of women and girls feature dominantly in the report to maximise authenticity of the findings presented.

The findings below represent the aggregate feedback given by all who took part. Quotes have been used to illustrate some of the main points to emerge, and these have all been anonymised to protect respondent confidentiality. Some of the issues raised came from only one or two respondents, but are still included, not as ‘main themes’, but to highlight some of the differences in views that were reported as well as some of the more nuanced issues facing sub-sets of the sample.

Qualitative research of this nature does not aim to be representative of all experiences but seeks to capture the lived experience of as diverse a sample as possible of a relevant population. While the relatively small sample size is recognised, the commonality of experiences shared by those who took part, and the congruence of the findings with wider international literature indicates that the research was successful in tapping into and uncovering the issues faced by women and girls, including those from a wide range of backgrounds.

The remainder of this report presents the findings from the research.