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Number of security officers on Luas temporarily increases by 30% after report on women’s safety

Activists say better infrastructure, like lighting at bus stops, and including women in planning are crucial to making public transport safer.

THE NUMBER OF security officers on the Luas has been increased by 30% after a report found that women have serious concerns about safety when travelling on public transport.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), which is responsible for roads, the Luas, and the MetroLink project, is temporarily increasing security presence on trams and at platforms following its “Travelling in a Woman’s Shoes” report.

The number of security staff has temporarily increased by around 30%, but the measure is targeted at worst-affected areas, meaning a “near doubling of presence in areas most affected by anti-social behaviour”, TII told The Journal.

While both men and women experience violence on public transport, current measures are especially seeking to mitigate safety concerns among women – who the report identified as more likely to be negatively affected by the fear of being in an unsafe situation or dissuaded from using public transport as a result of their concerns.

The increase is due to be assessed in August and may continue into September.

The report found that men and women are equally likely to experience violence on public transport, but that sexual harassment and assault are predominantly experienced by women, particularly in Dublin.

It identified that women’s concerns about safety on public transport can lead to anxiety and heightened vigilance, while 55% would not use public transport after dark and 34% have avoided going out altogether on occasion because of safety worries.

TII’s head of financial management Rachel Cahill said that “fortunately for most women, violent and unsafe incidents do not happen everyday, but the impact of such trauma is felt everyday, having a lasting effect on transportation habits and perceptions”.

Several operational measures have been planned or introduced to increase safety since the report, which was a “first step” towards identifying “appropriate solutions including filling the gender data gap, developing inclusive and safe mobility services, empowering women in the transport sector and stiumulating behaviour change”.

The effectiveness of increased security staff on the Luas will be assessed in August and it is “anticipated they will continue into September”. 

Technology projects that aim to increase safety are planned for 2022, such as allowing anti-social behaviour to be reported through the Luas real-time app and website, and real-time remote viewing of CCTV footage from trams in a control room.

“It is hoped these projects will facilitate a faster reaction time to anti-social behaviour on the Luas system,” Cahill said.

TII is also seeking to make Luas stops “a brighter, more attractive public transport environment where everyone feels comfortable travelling”, with plans to showcase local artists’ work at stations through a combination of permanent installations and temporary exhibitions.

Women and campaigners say there are significant steps to be taken in Ireland to make public transport safer for women and minority communities.

Women report safety issues both on transport services, such as buses, trains, and trams – and also while cycling – and on the journey to and from them, including waiting at a stop or station.

Women’s safety

Dr Hayley Mulligan, Violence Against Women officer at the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said that on public transport, many women “feel unsafe [and] alter or change their behaviour in order to improve their sense of safety or their actual safety, in particular at night or for different cohorts of women”.

“Their experiences can be very hostile on public transport. Particularly for disabled women – outside of the logistical challenges, there is an added risk of being a disabled woman, or a migrant woman or a woman of colour,” Dr Mulligan told The Journal.

There are “triage actions” that can be taken in the short-term to improve women’s safety and their sense of security, such as better lighting, better training for staff, safety protocols, and campaigns to encourage bystander intervention – but a broader societal change in behaviour is the key to women’s safety, Dr Mulligan believes.

“Fundamentally, you have to change societal attitudes and behaviours about making sexual harassment, harassment, and intimidation completely unacceptable and enforce the laws that we have already around this.”

In rural areas, a lack of transport options can be a barrier that prevents women who experience domestic violence from escaping.

Where public transport is available, poor infrastructure at bus stops or train stations can affect women’s sense of safety.

The TII report found that in many cases, the journey to and from a stop or station was a woman’s primary concern or reason for avoiding public transport.

It highlighted that women felt unsafe walking through large open spaces or parks, especially at night or when other people weren’t around, and that unreliable services can leave passengers waiting for long periods of time in poorly lit or isolated areas.

Speaking to The Journal, Ciarán Meers of the Cork Commuter Coalition said that “a lot of stops on bus networks at the moment are just a bus pole in the middle of the [path].”

WILDING IRELAND 1L2A0323 A bus stop near Naas, Co Kildare Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /

“There’s no lighting or a shelter around it. People aren’t going to feel very safe if they’re waiting at a stop at 11pm with no lighting around, where there’s no guard up in terms of a shelter,” Meers said.

“That’s going to dramatically affect whether a person feels safe and confident in using the system,” he said.

“A massive expansion of that kind of infrastructure, of lighting, of shelters, would be very important in ensuring that people, especially women, feel safe while using it.”

“Maybe the placement of public transport guards – not on every bus, I don’t think that would be feasible – but certainly on a few buses late at night might be good at making people feel safer while using public transport.” 

What passengers say

Researchers at the DIAMOND project, which uses data to find solutions for creating gender-inclusive transport systems, are studying women’s experience of public transport in Ireland.

Technological University Dublin’s Dr Maria Chiara Leva and Ajeni Ari Thimnu spoke to passengers on public transport and in focus groups to ascertain how people view the safety, accessibility, and infrastructure of Ireland’s transport services.

Dr Leva and Thimnu told The Journal that passengers regularly said they prefer when a station has a worker present and that they feel less exposed – but many stations are unstaffed.

Passengers also said that the appearance of a station, particularly whether it seemed littered and rundown or if it had a positive “sense of place” influenced how safe they felt. 

During discussions, an idea raised by women to make public transport safer included anonymous emergency alarm systems that would alert staff quickly during altercations.

However, not all women have faith in security personnel, the researchers heard.

Some feel that security would not de-escalate a violent situation, and others, particularly women from minority groups, recalled personal experiences or experiences of friends or family members of complaints being handled poorly in the past.

Satisfaction with being able to relay a complaint and with CCTV and security measures being visible in an emergency were low.

Employees also told the researchers that they are concerned for their safety on occasion, feel exposed to aggression, and that they don’t necessarily have the means to intervene.

Dr Leva and Thimnu said that the findings indicate there is a “need for public transport bodies to put a good focus on safety and security”.

“Having clean, well-lit, manned stations gives people a level of assurance.”

They found that people older than 65, who tend to travel during the day, are more satisfied with public transport than younger people who travel at later times.

In contrast, people who travel with dependents ranked their satisfaction that they could get help or evacuate in an emergency lower than other passengers.

Bike safety

For cyclists’ safety, an important step would be to increase women’s participation at the design and planning stage, says the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network.

Speaking to The Journal, Jo Sachs-Eldrige, a transport planner and ICAN executive member, said that “when there are plans to create a new cycle route, or even with an existing cycle route, often the only people that comment on those schemes are mostly middle-aged men and women don’t feel they have knowledge or expertise or time to have their say”.

“When a scheme for new cycle route might be being consulted on by the local authority, generally – and this is my experience in Wales as well as in Ireland – women don’t tend to comment, they feel it’s not for them,” she said.

“It means their needs, maybe as a mum cycling with kids or as a woman on their own, aren’t necessarily being addressed, so the cycle routes aren’t necessarily being designed to accommodate them.”

The ICAN has developed an assessment checklist called the Crac tool that collects information on cycling routes with a view to amplifying underheard voices in cycle planning.

“It hopefully makes it much easier for [women] to usefully comment on every scheme that’s in their area. It’s also a tool that can be used by designers and engineers to make sure that all the key elements of good cycle infrastructure design – directness, safety, comfort, attractiveness, and coherence – are included,” Sachs-Eldridge said.

“It makes sure that every aspect is included because cycle routes might be designed so that they’re safe, which is great, but they might not be direct, which means people don’t necessarily always use them because they don’t cater for their journeys or they might be designed so that they work only for certain types of cyclists,” she said.

“I think it’s important to get women involved at that stage so that the routes are designed so they accommodate women as well as the men that might be cycling on the routes.”

Across transport modes, Dr Mulligan of the NWCI agrees that a shift in design and planning is important for creating systems that accomodate women as well as men.

I think you really have to go back to basics. You have to recognise that public transport systems were designed by men for men.”

“Even the workers within public transport are disproportionately men, so I think, like all areas, you need to look at gender representation across all levels and structures of the public transport system and then they need to work with women’s groups and women to devise ways of making public transport safer.”

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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