Practical measures to support feelings of safety

While women and girls reported taking many measures themselves to mitigate risks and make themselves feel safer, there was clear evidence that much more could be done at the systemic level to bolster this further.

Increased police presence and repercussions

One of the measures that was cited most frequently as potentially making women and girls feel safer was an increased police presence, or increased visibility of individuals who were in a position to assist and respond to inappropriate behaviour:

It would be nice if I have more visibility of the British Transport Police (BTP) but I can’t see that happening…that would reassure passengers and the staff on the train as well.”

While many women recognised that increased staff presence was possibly the best deterrent to inappropriate behaviours, as well as the best way to make people (both women and men) feel safe, several also commented that they perceived there was a current lack of any visible presence/authority figures on the public transport system, i.e. “Both sets of police have been decimated in recent years, so it’s hard getting any kind of official help.”

Transport workers, in particular, suggested that the presence of transport police who would actively manage situations and ensure perpetrators faced consequences for their behaviour would be beneficial. This was particularly needed on known problematic routes, particularly when there were events on, or late at night travel at the weekend. One respondent explained how a police response to her call for assistance had made a difference in handling the situation and also that the police involvement may have been sufficient to deter future similar behaviour:

I’m aware of one colleague where it did tip over into, you know, something else and it was a horrendous experience for her and I would dread to think that one of these [men] who thinks he’s a little bit of a - for want of a better word - a ‘smart arse’ - could actually have been a little bit braver at that point and it would have tipped over the edge. And I think… a little scare from the police will do you no harm whatsoever little man.”

Several women spoke of there being no repercussions or negative consequences for those who did behave inappropriately towards women and girls, as well as insufficient deterrents against anti-social behaviour and against drinking on board public transport:

…there should be consequences…But the police aren’t there, so nothing’s going to get done anyway, so what does it matter? And the people that travel on the train do see that there’s never police about, so they know the chances of them getting caught doing what they’re doing isn’t going to happen. The only way to solve that would be to have more police about.”

Real consequences combined with increased and proactive police presence was the favoured means of improving feelings of safety overall.

Improved reporting systems and police responses

Women who had experienced negative incidents described mixed views towards reporting. Several women who had experienced verbal abuse indicated that they had not reported this to either the transport operator or the police as they either considered it to be ‘normal’ or not ‘serious enough’ to bother the authorities with, they excused the behaviour as an isolated incident as the person had been drunk or under the influence and so they felt they would not act that way any other time, or because they felt that nothing could/would be done.

Many women also said that they would be unsure who to report incidents to, except the most serious incidents such as physical or sexual assault which they would usually report to the police. For what they perceived as anti-social or ‘lower level’ incidents, such as verbal abuse or sexual harassment, many women felt there was no clear understanding of what the appropriate means for reporting would be:

I don’t know how I would go about it. So, like, would I speak to the driver? But like the driver will say, “OK fine”, and leave it there. Or like would it be some formal thing? I think there’s just no awareness of it [how to report].”

Public campaigns (discussed more below) were encouraged to raise awareness of who was available to help people (both men and women) if they felt unsafe on public transport, and who to contact for help:

Some sort of message kind of showing that you’re not alone, that there is someone who can help with it. So that it’s not just like a campaign saying, “Please don’t touch women”, cos like that’s not going to do anything. It’s a campaign that actually kind of shows where to get that help.”

Some women who had reported incidents to the British Transport Police also reported poor responses, and this was something that may deter them from reporting in the future, they explained:

[BTP] texted me back saying, “We’ll look into this incident but we don’t think anything’s going to happen about it”. And they never got back to me. So even though I told them exactly what train he’d got on, exactly what he looked like, everything that happened, it was - they texted me back as if to say, “We hear you but there’s nothing we can do about it” ...I ended up calling my friend and she said that she’d had the same experience. Someone was harassing her at a train station down the road, a different train station, and she texted the transport police about it and transport police basically got back to her saying, “We can’t do anything” …I just don’t see that there’s much of a point if that’s the way they’re going to respond, to be honest, because it was quite a lot of effort. I was really upset and emotional and it’s quite a lot of emotional labour to sit there and type out everything that happened and them to get back to you and be like, “There’s nothing we can do”. So, I don’t think I would do it again [text the BTP], to be honest.

Similarly, transport workers provided mixed responses around how reliable BTP and Police Scotland were in responding to calls for help - most of those interviewed reported having negative experiences whereby BTP or Police Scotland did not respond quickly or in sufficient time to help deter problematic passengers. Again, one female transport worker described how a previous negative reporting experience now made her reluctant to report anything else:

I know that, in my head, I should report all of these incidents but is there any point when the police won’t do anything? I had a man maybe 4 years ago, a man had said something really disgusting to me and I had got to the point where I was that disgusted and upset by it, I did phone the police. This one time, they actually did show up, which I could not believe. When they did show up, they turned round to me and they said, “What do you want? Do you want an apology from him?” So that’s the reaction that I’m met with when somebody says something really disgusting to me, like, do I want an apology from him? It then reinforces the idea that I shouldn’t have even wasted their time by phoning them… I’ve had that on multiple occasions, I’ve had the police use that exact same phrase, “Do you want an apology?” Because they think, instead of doing the paperwork, doing their job, that if they make somebody say sorry, that you’ll be happy with that and you’ll just leave it.”

One rail worker reported the police always being reliable and coming quickly to her aid but explained that she used text messages instead of phone calls and these always received a prompt response, and an in-person attendance, where merited. This was reinforced by another worker who felt that text messages usually received a faster or more efficient response. Yet another worker suggested that they often received quicker responses from Police Scotland than the British Transport Police but said that they received very little follow-up support or information from the police after reports and investigations. Again, they indicated that they were reluctant to continue reporting future incidents:

I tend not to report things now or, if I text things in, they don’t get responded to either. So, it kind of makes me feel like, why should I? So, I’ll maybe write it in my log book but that’s not actually helping because it’s not keeping – it’s keeping a record for me but it’s not logging anything with the Transport Police, so I just feel like, what’s the actual point? So even the assault I was talking about, the signaller phoned Police Scotland because they would respond quicker than Transport Police and they were the first ones to respond.”

They also noted that, even where incidents were more serious and were fully investigated by the police, the staff rarely heard any more about it. This may, therefore, leave staff with a sense that nothing really happens, and so more ongoing communication or follow-up is perhaps required:

…there was an assault and obviously the station then was essentially a crime scene, his blood had dripped everywhere, he’d broke a window on this train, like a full window and attempted to assault the driver. He was trying to get in at the driver as well. But again, I won’t hear about that, about if they’re charged, convicted or anything, we don’t hear anything about those things.”

Again, among workers, there was a mixed response with regards to how effective the current system of reporting incidents at work may be. While all of those interviewed said that they routinely completed the necessary paperwork to report incidents that had occurred at work, some felt these reports simply “vanished” and resulted in no action, whereas others felt they were always taken seriously and always followed up.

One female transport worker also raised caution around too readily reporting incidents involving female passengers as complainers or victims, as she felt that some women and girls did not want to interact with authorities. She explained that she would always be led by what the victim wanted and if they did not want to report an incident, she would uphold their wishes. Similarly, one female passenger explained that she herself would not necessarily want to involve police but that an alternative means of reporting would be welcomed:

I mean, people might not be comfortable going to the police station but if there was somewhere else that they could go - even if it was just somewhere in the bus station and they had a room for people to make complaints or to talk about things like that.”

Overall, both transport workers and female public transport users commonly felt there was little point in reporting, what were considered to be minor incidents, either because they themselves had grown to expect such altercations and therefore did not consider them to be serious or require any intervention, or because they felt that such incidents would either not be treated seriously by the authorities (either the transport company or the police), or that very little would/could be done about it:

I think the police consider it as minor. If someone shouted at you, it’s not something to report. It has to be something bigger, like attacking or stabbing so you can report that. Even the hate crime, people are not reporting it. I think the police are not taking it seriously.”

Increased staffing at stations and on board

There was consensus from women and girls of all ages that being in spaces that were staffed or had a staff presence made women feel safer, and this included staffing at interchanges as well as on board public transport, i.e. “I think for female passengers definitely having people, staff visible on the trains and in the stations helps them.”

At stations, women spoke about feeling more comfortable if ticket offices were open and staffed (especially later at night), and also if there were staff close to or in waiting room areas:

I definitely think that the stations do feel safer when they’re staffed. We do have a lot of unstaffed stations in this country and we also have a lot of like booking offices…that shut pretty early…probably at the time where people are starting to feel a little unsafer would be when these booking offices are shut.”

On board, many women also spoke of feeling ‘safer’ in the presence of transport staff, e.g. ticket examiners, and again spoke of sitting close to or in the proximity of conductors, to make them feel.

While there was consensus that more staff per se would make people feel at ease, some respondents stressed that having at least one member of female staff available on train routes/journeys may make female passengers feel doubly safe:

I probably would feel more safer with a woman in some ways… just from the fact that they tend to be a bit more compassionate and empathetic and maybe understand that, as a woman, the kind of things that might be going through my head while I’m on the train or if I’m witnessing something or being harassed in a certain way.”

Another young woman explained how she has been accompanied by a female member of staff on a journey after the staff member identified that she was feeling vulnerable, and this view that female staff often offered one of the biggest reassurances to women was echoed by several, i.e. “the transport police who are supposed to be doing stuff, aren’t but these [female] workers obviously are and that makes me feel a lot safer.”

For train workers, having co-workers present on board especially late at night was also be seen as something which could offer reassurance to them whilst working, but was not usually afforded (due to time, and no need for two staff to work the same shift/service due to low passenger numbers):

…it would be really beneficial to have two members of staff, two ticket examiners, because you’re out there on your own. If something happens to you, the driver wouldn’t know. The driver’s too busy driving the train. So, if something did happen to you and there was nobody about to go and get the driver for help, what happens? There’s nobody else there. And I think that - that definitely plays on my mind.”

One respondent did explain that hospitality staff (who had largely stopped working on trains during the pandemic) were starting to return to some services and even their presence could increase feelings of safety and of not being alone. Importantly, the reassurance offered by on board co-workers was not something mentioned by female bus drivers, but they instead viewed that having other buses and drivers pass by offered reassurance in itself, i.e. “If you get really stuck, all you have to do is get off your bus and get another driver to help you… just flag down another driver and say, “I need help.””

One transport worker raised a specific concern about stations not being staffed at night when they were finishing their shift and were carrying cash and their portable ticket machines. She explained that, while her employers sometimes arranged taxi transportation from stations, even then she did not always feel safe. She described one experience where the male taxi driver who collected her with her ticket money from the shift made her feel uncomfortable and remembered thinking at the time that none of her managers would have noticed if anything untoward had occurred as neither she or the money were due back in the office/due to be counted until the next day (and managers did not work after 8pm at night).

Improved communications

Both passengers and workers expressed concerns about feeling unable to communicate with the drivers of public transport, suggesting that improved opportunities to communicate were needed. The two main concerns were that there was no clear way of easily and discretely communicating with drivers to make them stop the vehicle or make them aware of what was happening, and secondly, that some drivers would be (and had been in the past) ambivalent to women’s concerns:

It’s kind of hard and on the bus, if people are being loud and rowdy, bus drivers don’t tend to do much anyway. So, it doesn’t feel like if I were in a position where I needed to get help, I wouldn’t have someone to go to straight away.”

Female bus drivers echoed this perception, and noted that more could be done to encourage open communications between bus drivers and passengers:

A lot of people don’t like speaking to the driver and I think…we should be telling drivers to be more approachable, you know, when young children and women come on buses, you should be smiling, making them feel welcome so that if something does happen, they feel that they can actually approach us…I can stop the bus at any point…listen to what they’re saying and…you can say, “Right, well just stay there and we’ll contact the police”…anything that’s going to help them.”

Disabled women in particular were often dependent on the goodwill and respect of the driver of a bus. There were, however, instances where disabled women felt that drivers were disrespectful or unhelpful, not least when those passengers felt threatened by others on the bus. One older woman who was accompanying a disabled adult in her care explained how a group of anti-social teenagers were making negative remarks to her companion and how she felt unable to communicate how unsafe they felt or attract attention from the driver:

I couldn’t get up to go to the driver to tell him what was happening…And even going off the bus, I couldn’t even tell the driver because, you know, he’s driving, he’s not aware of what’s going on up the back of the bus.”

One transport worker also explained that, while the cab-to-cab communication systems on trains allowed them to communicate with the driver, this was not always working:

…we have something called a cab-to-cab phone. If anything was happening, we’re only allowed to phone the driver when the train’s stopped…if there was an issue, you could phone the driver when he next stopped the train at the next station. But in a lot of these trains, the cab-to-cab doesn’t work…Even if you were in the place of safety [locked back cab], we don’t have a way of contacting the driver. And there was an incident with a female member of staff a couple of months ago where her cab-to-cab wasn’t working and there were people breaking into the back cab to attack her…because the cab-to-cab phone wasn’t working, the driver wasn’t even aware that she was being attacked.”

Another female colleague again spoke of being concerned that if they contacted the driver, their action may be seen as an over-reaction to a trivial situation, and this made them cautious to communicate freely.

On the whole, it was accepted that it was easier to discretely communicate with ticket examiners walking around vehicles, and so this was one of the main reasons respondents felt their presence was important and should be increased, if possible:

I was sitting on a train and I had like a specific seat that I was assigned but I didn’t feel safe staying in that seat. So, I told the conductor as they were checking tickets. I said…I’m not going to sit here anymore because this person is making me feel uncomfortable. But I didn’t do it in front of the person, I kind of did it…a little bit further away from them, so that they wouldn’t hear I’m kind of talking about them…and the conductor said I can choose whichever seat I want and he said he will monitor the situation.”

Improved surveillance

There were mixed responses regarding the effectiveness of CCTV as something that made women feel safe. Some spoke of feeling reassured that if anything happened it would be captured that CCTV may deter some perpetrators in the first instance:

I think the fact that I know there are cameras as well, I know there’s definitely cameras on buses… and that makes me feel safer cos I feel like even if there was anything to happen, then there would be proof and that would be good.”

While CCTV was welcomed, its limitations were also recognised, in that it did not provide any immediate help and was more something which would be for evidential purposes ‘after’ the fact, rather than acting as a deterrent or preventative measure:

Even though the lighting is there, and you’ve got the cameras, they’re only as good as the operator who’s watching them. If something happens, you’ve not got instant help.”

Interestingly, female bus users commented that while there was CCTV on buses, they perceived that this often did not cover the whole vehicle and left blind spots, and that CCTV in and around stations or on-board vehicles was often out of order. In contrast, female bus drivers indicated that they found the CCTV on buses to be a great comfort, and to be robust, as the following driver explained:

The buses are covered in cameras. There’s cameras in the cab, there’s cameras everywhere and it’s audio as well. So, if anything happens, they can switch on the audio to find out what was said and things like that. So, I feel quite safe with that cos, as you say, there’s cameras all-round the bus.”

One female bus driver suggested that the issue was not an absence of CCTV on buses, but rather lack of awareness among passengers that it was there, i.e. increased awareness may act as a deterrent and make passengers feel safer:

I think there’s some people that maybe have no idea or don’t even acknowledge or maybe even think about CCTV on buses…we do have signs on the bus that say there’s CCTV but, again, how many people actually acknowledge that?”

That being said, some of the female transport workers described how CCTV did not always accurately reflect encounters and that even watching an incident back it was hard for independent observers to gauge what had occurred. Some suggested that anyone watching an event after the fact would also struggle to empathise with the way that it made participants feel in the moment.

There was also mixed feedback from staff in relation to body cameras. Some saw these as offering very little by way of reassurance or protection and others felt body cameras could work to deter perpetrators, on some occasions:

I think it can be a little bit of a buffer because someone who may present an issue might think twice about it if they think they’re going to be filmed. So, I wouldn’t say it necessarily stops [the perpetrator] - the ones that are going to do it anyway, it won’t stop. But the ones that might just be on that tipping point, they see that camera and I think…it does pull them back a little bit.”

Better training

Across the board, female transport workers described little to no formal training either in relation to their own personal safety or that of others. Where training was mentioned, this was limited to single training events mainly focussed on conflict management (and one respondent mentioned a course they had attended a long time ago on self-defence). The training and advice offered was also deemed quite ‘generic’ in nature and women instead reported relying on common sense:

It’s basic safety training - ‘keep your wits about you’...what I’ve learnt myself and it is just until you feel safe 100% with the members of public coming on your bus, keep your door locked at all times. Always be aware of who’s coming on and who goes off…Always go by your gut instinct. If you think there’s something strange with them [passengers], keep an eye on them. Wait till they get off the bus and never get out of your vehicle unless there’s another driver or someone there with you.”

Similarly, none of those interviewed had received training in relation to how to assist other women and girls who felt unsafe or were in need and instead relied on intuition:

I know that intuitively I would know…I think if I had a woman or a girl that came to me and said, somebody’s assaulted me…I would comfort the passenger, I would ask them what steps they want to take, if they want to call anybody and just reassure them that someone’s there. Cos it is scary for women and girls when they travel on public - being on public transport…I think we just need to play it by ear but I feel like I know what I would do for each situation.”
I think that’s [intuition] always the best thing in a situation because you [can] do all this training and it’ll never actually fall into place…I think your gut and your mind will tell you what’s wrong with somebody when you see somebody in a state.”

One woman mentioned Samaritan training around how to identify the signs that someone may be at risk of suicide or self-harm. Another mentioned training on how to identify ‘vulnerable’ people, but felt that this had been vague:

I mean, we’ve been told we need to look after vulnerable people but the classification - who do you class as vulnerable? I mean, somebody that’s drunk? Somebody that’s under the influence of drugs? Or somebody that’s being abused or attacked?”

In general, training on a regular basis around self-protection was seen as something that would be welcomed. One respondent explained that their employers had repeatedly advised her and colleagues that they must never ‘raise their hands’ even if hit by another person and while she recognised that this was appropriate, she would welcome training on alternatives means of self-protection and how to safely remove herself from danger. While the guidance and training received was to always put themselves and their own safety first, women felt that this was perhaps easier said than done, and that more guidance could be offered around how to keep themselves safe while also looking out for vulnerable others.

An issue raised by one respondent was that those who work on ‘accommodated contracts’ (including several of her female colleagues) would not qualify for routine training or safety briefings due to the nature of their contract, i.e. “they don’t allow me to do it [training] because they would need to pay me…They’re not willing to do that.”

There was also some evidence that women working in the industry perhaps felt reluctant to ask for additional support or measures to be put in place to make them feel safe, for fear that this would be viewed negatively by employers:

They [employers] expect you to be able to get on with it. If you can’t work on your own in a certain station, then they don’t deem you fit for the job.”

Only one transport worker expressed doubts that training would offer additional support, as she felt that the situations presented to women were so variable that experience and intuition were inevitably going to dictate how they responded:

I think training can be very good on paper but it doesn’t really cover all the situations that you would be in. I think you would definitely need to make some judgement calls for yourself that you wouldn’t have had any training for.”

Strategic and managerial solutions

While several respondents were resigned to some of the above issues being embedded in society, one respondent raised the idea of a more strategic solution in the form of increased presence of women in senior transport roles as something which may help women and girls to feel safer:

I think more women within the transport industry, be it from the top to the bottom. I think because we see things completely differently…I don’t even think it’s deliberate, but men don’t see it from that angle, so they don’t think of the things, the silly little tweaks, I think that could make public transport right across the board a friendlier and safer environment for women.”

When prompted on what such “little tweaks” may entail, this included making uniforms more suitable for women. Indeed, one female transport worker reported that the latest blouses that female staff had been asked to wear were slightly see through and this made her feel ‘exposed’ to some degree. Another spoke of heavy-duty footwear which, although made them feel safe from the point of view of manual work on board trains (e.g. attaching ramps, assisting passengers in wheelchairs, etc,) could also attract negative attention or comments from passengers.

Finally, many women felt that simply making men more aware of how unsafe things made them feel was important. One female transport worker, who had been discussing the research with male colleagues before taking part explained:

And that was the discussion we had with men in work and all the women that I work with were saying, “Yeah, that happens quite a lot [unwanted physical contact], that happens regularly to me”. And the men were horrified. They were like, “Really?” And we’re like, “Yeah”, that is a very frequent occurrence is men putting their hands on you maybe with no malice behind it but sometimes there is. Sometimes it feels creepy. A lot of the time, it’s just very subtle sexism which in itself makes you feel really unsettled.”

Influences on behaviour

Most women spoke of a combination of personal experience, the experiences of friends/family and media (including social media) as influencing their attitudes around the safety of public transport.

While personal experience was the biggest influence, several women mentioned high profile cases from the media which had also made them change (usually temporarily) their travel patterns:

…there was the killing of the lady in London [Sarah Everard] who was killed walking back home. So, I think everyone re-evaluated kind of their use of transport and walking at night and everything afterwards…I do keep an eye on news just to be on top of it but I wouldn’t say it’s hugely influenced.”

The majority view was that the media coverage of safety on public transport was largely negative overall, and perhaps therefore not reassuring:

I think there was a lady who the bus driver assaulted her or something or…that other case where a policeman kidnapped this lady or something. When you hear that in the media and it’s also on social media, it doesn’t make you feel that safe because you’re like, “Who can you trust if you can’t even trust the police, if you can’t trust the drivers?” There aren’t typically a lot of safe articles talking about how safe public transport is.”

Media was also cited by several women as a source of their perceptions of risk of crime in general - women spoke about high profile cases of young people being attacked or physically assaulted at or around train stations and bus stations and mentioned that this created a general sense of such areas as being unsafe, even if the perceived threats were not gendered in nature.

Word of mouth and the general reputation of an area was also something that women used to inform or reinforce their perceptions of safety. When reports (either via word of mouth, media or social media) related to incidents that had happened locally, this had a greater impact on respondents, with even those who felt relatively safe on public transport and in their local area noting that it made them wary of using the service or area (for example a route to a public transport link) in question:

I think it’s a bit of everything [that informs thinking and behaviour] because whenever you wake up, you look at the news or you turn on your mobile and there is always news about the local area and what’s happening and there are accidents and there are sometimes stabbings and things like that and purse snatching, and general bullying, lots of things. Of course, it makes you nervous when you’re going outside…once I was so like nervous at a certain point in time that I also took self-defence class…”

Social media was also cited as a source of people sharing “horror stories” or reporting/sharing videos of incidents that occurred on public transport. One young woman indicated that any social media posts which discussed incidents nearby would make them far more anxious and alert while using public transport, at least for a while. Another woman said that social media reporting of one incident on a nearby train route had influenced her decision not to use that train at certain times.

Younger women noted that they were less likely to read more traditional media formats but were much more likely to get information from social media channels (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram):

I think definitely it is a massive factor. Like you do read stuff when you’re scrolling through your Facebook or Instagram…like if I didn’t see half the stuff I saw on Instagram and Facebook, I would be clueless as to what could happen and what’s going on.”

The continual negative media messaging directed at women about their safety fed the fears of some and created a learned fear for others from a young age:

I think typically the media always - in whatever movie it is, there’s always that scene with the girl who’s on the train and then the murderer sneaks up behind her and kills her and the moral of the story is, “Don’t take the train at p.m.!” …So there is always kind of this narrative which perpetuates the media.”
There’s also some element of what we’re taught as children. We’re always taught as children to be mindful and be aware that we’re going to be targeted as women, especially in all male environments. That’s always something that’s perpetuated as a child listening to my mother growing up but also going into society and in media and then just from word of mouth and that kind of thing. And then that’s kind of reinforced when you actually experience it for yourself and there’s always a stance of us and them and that women are always going to be targeted and men always have it easy on public transport. But as time goes by, we know that that’s not the case and men are more likely to be targeted by male groups in terms of being attacked or getting into fights. Whereas women are going to be targeted more likely for sexual reasons.”

Only a few respondents indicated that media stories had little impact on them, as they rationalised such incidents as ‘unique’.

Exploring the effectiveness of campaigns

There were mixed responses with regards to the perceived need for or effectiveness of public campaigns to assist in addressing women’s concerns.

Some women said that they would like to see information about what they can do and who they should contact in order to report incidents of antisocial or other inappropriate behaviour. One respondent noted this would be especially useful for younger women who were perhaps inexperienced at traveling without a parent, etc. However, others suggested that while it was important to ensure this information was available to women it should not necessarily be done via a public campaign. It was felt this may result in normalising the problem, and that there may appear to be an element of victim blaming and placing the responsibility for safety onto women rather than targeting the causes of the problem:

I always feel… everything’s put on us, you know, it’s always us having to report it, it happens to us. You’re technically a victim. So, it should be the person that’s doing it to you that’s getting the message, not particularly you because it’s them that’s made this happen.”

Others wanted more educational campaigns to ensure people understood what would make women uncomfortable and why, as well as information about consequences for perpetrators (backed up with stronger actions and penalties):

I do think a massive thing is to inform other people of what does make girls and women feel unsafe. Like for example, if someone is drunk and makes some comment at you or says something to you as they’re walking past, that is going to make you feel uncomfortable. They won’t think anything of it, they might think it’s a joke or whatever. I think it’s like drawing a line of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable and some people don’t understand that what might be funny to them might really upset someone.”

Other respondents (both transport users and transport workers), who felt that travel by public transport was generally safe, wanted a campaign to highlight this (albeit with caveats that more staff and better infrastructure were needed too):

I think we have to let women know that it is safe to go out at night themselves, the buses are safe, most of the drivers will not tolerate individuals behaving badly…We shouldn’t be stuck in the house, we should be out and about and I think…if we had better lights at bus stops and things like that…a campaign to say it is safe for a single female to be on the bus would be good.”

Some women felt that campaigns could be used effectively to communicate how safe public transport is and advertise the help and support available to women, as well as educating others about the types of behaviours that may make women and girls feel vulnerable. Several others, however, expressed scepticism that perpetrators were unaware that their behaviour was inappropriate. On this basis, there was also cynicism that any type of campaign designed to educate and deter perpetrators would be effective:

…do you really think the people who do it don’t know it’s inappropriate...I think most people know, they just don’t care.”
…if a man is going to go out there and make somebody feel uncomfortable, they’re not going to stop and look at a poster and think, “Maybe I shouldn’t verbally abuse that woman or sexually assault that woman.””

One female transport worker also suggested that any campaign would need to be carefully managed to ensure that it did not inadvertently make women feel even more isolated. For example, she suggested that encouraging men (and women) not to sit close to or talk to women if they were alone, in case it made them feel vulnerable, may result in situations where people no longer offered some of the basic reassurance that came from being ‘in company’:

…people just ordinarily on a train speaking to each other, sometimes that can make you feel safer if you’re talking to someone else. Would that [a campaign] stop people from talking to each other in case they said something they weren’t supposed to say and it was taken inappropriately? I don’t know.”

The main thing that women and girls wanted to see, and which linked to their feedback in relation to policing and security, was better public messaging of what to do if they felt unsafe, both in the immediacy of the moment, but also once in a place of safety after experiencing negative events.

Widening and strengthening other initiatives

Some women suggested improving the infrastructure around safety - for example, bus screens at all stops and within buses to forewarn of the name of the next stop; giving drivers information which will help them advise passengers of their rights/safety; support apps online; messaging within buses and trains, etc. on what to do, and how to convey it, if one feels threatened or unsafe.

Other initiatives mentioned by just one or two women each include the railway ‘Travel Safe Team’ (which was perceived by some as being not very effective as it had no authority to act but was seen by others as providing additional resource when police and BTP were unavailable), and ‘Help Buttons’ at stations that allowed women to speak to a control room (although the usefulness of this was questioned by one rail worker who had used it and received very little support or help). One other transport worker also indicated that Help Buttons were not always accessible and only one respondent suggested that it may be helpful if the ‘Help Buttons’ that were available at railway stations were also present at bus stops.

One female respondent also mentioned the ‘Safe Home’ scheme as something she was aware of that would be beneficial if rolled out to different workplaces (i.e. a taxi scheme that allows women working in the hospitality, fast food and retail sector to get home safely after a late shift). Aligned to this, for female workers who owned their own private cars, comments were made that a lack of suitable parking at their workplace meant that they were often not able to use their cars to travel safely to/from work (including at night):

We don’t have many car parking spaces, so I am not allowed to park at work. So, I have to get the train into work. I don’t really have options, which is alright but it can feel quite daunting at night time. So, a lot of the time, if I finish maybe after 11, if it’s at the weekend, then I get an Uber home…I wouldn’t want to get on a late-night service at the weekend.”

One train worker described how the lack of car parking spaces had made her change her shift patterns so as to avoid using public transport for night commutes. One bus worker who did have access to staff car parking described this as making things “much easier”, especially when working early morning or late-night shifts.

Another bus worker explained that, while staff buses were offered by their employer to assist with safe travel to and from work, the timings and irregularity of these meant that they were often underused, e.g. “It’s more convenient because if you take the staff bus to work, you could end up going in an hour or more before your actual shift starts.” For this woman, having a car parking space within the bus depot where she could leave her car whilst working was seen as the more convenient option.

It should be noted that some rail operators were described as being better than others at providing things such as designated parking for those working anti-social hours, but that this was not a routine policy across the industry and there were views that ‘Safe Home’ schemes could usefully be broadened to encompass those working in the transport industry.