On Women’s Month and Cities

What kind of urban intervention related to public transport would help create safer space for women commuting on a regular basis?

When reviewing issues around safety and security for women and girls, one is essentially reviewing issues concerning more the vulnerable people of a community and therefore by addressing the needs of this specific group, better access to safe and secure public transport is offered to wide range of users. In order to provide safer public transport for women and girls who regularly commute, one would have to review the whole of the travel chain; this includes access to information about what transport services are available at what times, then access to the point of departure as well as boarding, safety and security during transit, disembarking and arrival at their destination and finally the ability to give and receive feedback.

Access to information, in a variety of forms; including online, mobile, print and audio, would reduce waiting periods at boarding areas and women would be better informed of the types of transport available to them for the routes that they desire to travel on. Access to information would also assist in managing budgets and time efficiency.

Access to departure points includes all pedestrian routes as well as secondary (feeder) transport modes. Access to this information is also important as it will assist with journey planning and time efficiency. Pedestrian routes, as part of the My Citi BRT should be accessible for 500meters from each bus stop. This would include good lighting, clear visibility of spaces and surrounding areas, accessible walkways and spaces as well as a means to alert the surrounding community to any alarming situations that might occur. Shelters should encourage visibility of the surrounding areas and should be well lit to increase the safety of more vulnerable people waiting at the shelters. Information and way finding along pedestrian routes is essential to prevent seemingly aimless wondering along routes, which increases a person’s vulnerability. The more efficient the boarding process the less time passengers and particularly women and girls are required to wait before getting into the vehicle. This process, specific to feeder buses of the My Citi could be streamlined to increase the efficiency of the system and increase the rate at which passengers board the vehicles.

Safety and security during transit could be enhanced through vigilance of the public transport staff, including drivers, as well as good internal lighting. On-board real-time feedback systems throughout vehicles could also assist in curbing on-board security risks and problems.

Disembarking and arriving at their destination would have the same requirements as access to the departure points and boarding. Simplified, easy to use systems benefit all users and contribute to safer and more secure transport services.

The ability to give feedback and receive important information allows the service provider to put specific interventions in place to overcome situational or site specific problems. This could include the need for a marshal at a specific stop, or that the driver increase the speed of boarding procedures at specifically dangerous stops or to avoid certain areas if a dangerous situation has occurred. This real-time communications between passengers and service providers will also allow passengers to be informed if the service is on time, slightly late or not arriving at all. This type of service is high dependent on the functionality of a reliable and monitored online service.

Along with dealing with the above mentioned issues around the direct implications of the travel chain, customer care training and sensitisation to the diverse needs of people that make use of public transport, would go a long way in terms of awareness creating around diversity as well as increase the levels of service that are offered to women and girls on public transport.

Lastly, public awareness through the various media should be in a positive light and not focus on crimes against women and girls but rather focus on their safety and security. Positive affirmations (Like “keeping our women and girls safe”) make more impact and would influence surrounding communities with positive words, which would result in a more positive outcome than just safer public transport. Public awareness should be emphasised through all channels to all people, it should encourage women and girls to come forward with their experiences and it should encourage all people to respect the safety and security of women and girls.

What are your initial thoughts about the measures taken already by the City of Cape Town and UN Women Safe Cities Global Initiatives and what would you change? (Refer to link for more infos)

The My Citi BRT has many positive aspects in terms of safety and security but unfortunately, the more one does the more one learns. Although the My Citi is an exemplary BRT in the country, there is always more that could be done to increase safety, security and accessibility. With respect to public transport, I would suggest that the City of Town increase access to accessible information, the infrastructure surrounding and supporting public transport needs to be made more accessible and consideration should be given to increased lighting and visibility along pedestrian routes and at stops. Boarding and disembarking procedures need to be revised and made more efficient and easier, and vehicles need to be maintained in good working order to optimise functionality. Additional staff and driver training needs to be undertaken to increase sensitivity to human diversity and needs, as well as to increase vigilance and surveillance. Regarding public spaces, again lighting and visibility are essential and positive public awareness campaigns would also benefit the city and its public transport as whole.

The UN Women Safe Cities Global Initiatives have the power of collective knowledge. If all of the participating countries share their experiences regarding their successes in securing the safety of women and girls in their communities, public spaces and on transport, all of the countries will be enriched. Although there are different dynamics, cultures and ethics in each country, the essence of the safety and security of women across the world is pivotal and of which the importance is unanimous. It is important though that stringent Monitoring and Evaluation processes be put in place and defined from the onset of creating a paradigm shift, which is essentially what this urban intervention is about.

How would you revisit communal space in your city centre to optimize safety for women?

Designing for the vulnerable members of our community, specifically women and girls, one needs to consider their means of communication, their access to information, the accessibility of spaces (including lighting, physical access, visibility and unrestricted movement) and the perceptions of people in the area or the surroundings. Communal spaces therefore need to be well lit, allow easy movement and access, have increased visibility and offer facilities that are safe to use and encourage the respect of women and girls.