Public transport, Melbourne


The tools we need to ensure the safety of girls and women on our public transport network






Ensuring the safety of girls and women on public transport

The safety of women and girls hinges on community-level changes in our organisations, education, lifestyle and infrastructural design.

Our industry needs to increase its understanding of the way our built environments affect women and girls and ensure our public transport network is safe for all users.

Ensuring the safety of girls and women on public transport

The XYX Tram Lab: research to improve our public transport network

On 16th of February 2022, the Australian Institute of Transport Planning Management (AITPM) hosted the ‘Improving the Safety of Women and Girls on Public Transport’ webinar.

Associate Professor and Director of the Monash University XYX Tram Lab, Nicole Kalms, led the collaborative research program aimed at understanding and improving our public transport network.

The XYX Tram Lab research was funded by the State government, following outrage over the 2019 murder of Aiia Waasarwe.

Aiia’s final steps saw her descend from a Bundoora tram in Melbourne’s CBD right before she was violently assaulted and murdered. During the succeeding trial, Aiia’s mother asked the courts; “Why should a girl feel unsafe … returning from an outing? Where is the justice?”

What did the study discover?

The study looked at the increased risk that women and girls face on public transport. Five key areas of focus were identified:

  • The mode of public transport taken ‒ e.g. bus, tram, train
  • The personal characteristics of transport users ‒ e.g. age, sexual orientation, gender identification, ethnicity
  • The perceived safety through third parties ‒ e.g. do they pose a threat?
  • The people around the transport users ‒ e.g. were they likely to be reactive?
  • The space the transport users were within ‒ e.g. are there accessible escape routes?

Many respondents within the study indicated the high hand holds on public transport were exposing and entrapping.

They also viewed CCTV surveillance as a last resort, to provide evidence after an incident has occurred, rather than a means of prevention.

Toolkits to provide practical and gender-sensitive solutions

The research evaluated by XYX Lab was used to produce four tool kits to provide solutions which focussed on communication campaigns, placemaking, data and training.

While there is no single solution for improving safety on public transport, there remains a pressing need for comprehensive and coordinated initiatives to be actioned. These initiatives extend beyond the scope of the transport industry and rely on a societal shift.

The four toolkits created are listed below:

  1. Toolkit for Gender-Sensitive Communication Campaigns ‒ drives home the importance of communication campaigns and engagement strategies to better understand sexual identity, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds.
  2. Toolkit for Gender-Sensitive Placemaking Toolkit ‒ emphasises the requirement of gender-sensitive initiatives in public transport design, placemaking and policy.
  3. Toolkit for Gender-Sensitive Data Toolkit ‒ stresses the importance of quality, comparable data to aid prevention and safety strategies.
  4. Toolkit for Gender-Sensitive Training ‒ highlights the importance of staff training, especially to reinforce gender-sensitive and appropriate behavioural conduct.

Toolkits are accessible here.

Change is needed now

The ebb in public transport use produced by the COVID-19 pandemic will give way to a rise in public transport use as people return to work, education and recreation activities.

Studies by Whitzman (2019) found 80% of female tertiary students in Melbourne had been sexually harassed on public transport over a three-year period ending in 2018.

In addition, an appalling 1 in 6 women who reported the incident to a Public Service Officer (PSO) were subsequently harassed by the same PSO.

These statistics reinforce the need to develop a flexible best practice curriculum that responds to the safety of women and girls on our public transport system.

A call to action

Improvements can be made on many fronts to instigate a corrective response to current trends.

Quality training, recruitment focus, diversity and safe environment training for PSO will respond to this need for change. Additionally, real-time incident reporting, positive communication campaigns and new technology will improve commuter safety.

At a broader level, improved policies, infrastructure and design will ensure the environment we live in supports the safety needs of all transport users.