Government cannot ignore its responsibility to women's safety on public transport any longer

When it comes to eradicating the concerning levels of violence against women and girls on public transport, no further delays can be accepted.

One in five women in the UK will be the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime and with the British Transport Police estimating that only 4% - 7% of incidents are reported, it is clearly high time for government to tackle these shocking figures. Beyond reporting statistics, prevention must be the key aim.

As we celebrate International Women's Day – with this year's theme, focusing on inspiring inclusion, where one of the calls to action is for us to design "infrastructure meeting the needs of women and girls" – we are still faced with a transport system planned by men for men, which doesn't fully grasp the travel and safety needs of women.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way that transport policy ignores the proven behavioural differences in how men and women travel. Differing gender roles mean women's mobility patterns are often more complex, requiring multiple modes of transport, each with its own safety challenges.

We must ensure that all modes used in the end-to-end journey are subject to consistent standards. This requires factoring safety throughout transport policy and the design of infrastructure. As 63% of women prefer to plan their journeys around safe spaces and well-lit venues, some of the solutions include increasing visibility at bus stops, to properly lighting carparks, clearly marking safe spaces at bus and train stations to help journey planning, implementing 'talking light posts', and so much more.

Women are almost twice as likely as men to change their behaviours to feel safe when taking public transport. While 62% of females let other people know their plans when travelling, just 36% of males do; 50% of women travel with others to feel safe, compared with 28% of men; and 39% of women arrange for someone to meet them at their destination, compared with just 15% of men.

Sadly, when women feel there are no safe public transport options available, they restrict their choices. In fact, according to a 2017 report by Infrastructure & Cities for Economic Development, sexual harassment and violence against women leads to a loss of up to 3.7% of GDP, based on estimates from developing countries.

So instead of focusing on how women can change their behaviours, why not focus on how can we improve the end-to-end transport system?

One initiative taken in the Greater London Authority has been night safety audits, conducted by local women to assess weaknesses in safety planning. Aggregating such data from around the UK would allow authorities to reduce the gender bias in infrastructure planning and implement solutions needed for the local area and even introduce standardised safety measures across the industry.

While this sounds ambitious, it would not set a precedent. In 2008, the Persons with Disabilities and Reduced Mobility TSI standard was introduced, not only in the UK, but across the EU. It aimed to improve access to transport for people with disabilities and it pushed operators to retrofit entire fleets, creating the accessible system we take for granted today.

Beyond this, the digital age offers an abundance of options to harness user and transport data to improve end-to-end journey planning and safety. Worldline is currently working in a high growth region in England to help develop a planning Mobility as a Service app. It will allow users to plan journeys from door to door, incorporating different modes of travel, including public and active travel, giving women and girls more confidence in their ability to plan the journey they feel safest taking in real-time. Connected with the UKs leading personal safety app WalkSafe which is specifically designed to provide users with access to a national map of safe spaces, allowing people to plan safer routes. It also has features that enable users to share journeys with trusted friends to ensure they get home safe. Together this will increase the confidence of people to use public transport and reduce their fear of crime. There are countless opportunities for greater data sharing to improve journey planning further.

Making transport safer for women means making it safer for everyone, unlocking greater social mobility and supporting economic growth. However, there is no one size fits all solution to improving safety. Government has previously been successful in implementing large-scale accessibility changes in transport and needs to take as serious of an approach toward improving safety standards for all.

The solutions to deliver "safer, simpler public transport" for all exist, it is now time to implement them.