Creating a virtuous circle of trust and safety on public transport

A smiling woman on a bus
Monta Drozdova

Amongst the key topics of conversation and main challenges facing the public transport sector in the post-pandemic world, is that of fostering trust. From various industry surveys we know what a more trusted public transport service, that would see users turn to public transport would look like – one that is affordable, convenient, appealing and safe. The issue of safety was one we discussed with members, Parliamentarians and stakeholders during the recent joint meeting between the City Regions Transport and Women in Transport All Party Parliamentary Groups.  

The meeting was an opportunity to bring together national, local and Westminster perspectives on the issue and to share progress, best practice and discuss key barriers facing our members and transport authorities across the country working to tackle safety on public transport.  

Our members’ work is set amongst a challenging background. A 2022 ONS survey found that 58% of women aged 16 to 34 years reported feeling very or fairly unsafe using public transport alone after dark. It also recorded that people who had experienced harassment in the previous 12 months were more likely to feel unsafe when walking alone and using public transport. According to the British Transport Police (BTP), reports of sexual harassment on London’s public transport surged by 61% compared to before the pandemic, whilst the most recent report from November 2023 revealed that over a third of women have been victims of sexual harassment or sexual offences while commuting by train or tube.  

In 2021 Laura Shoaf CBE, Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, and Anne Shaw OBE, UTG Board member and Executive Director for Transport for West Midlands, were appointed as the UK’s first Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions. Working with the Department for Transport, charities, women’s safety advocates, transport experts and passenger groups, they identified the changes needed across the country’s transport network. An extensive set of recommendations on making the transport network safer for women and girls was published in 2022.  

Anne Shaw joined the APPG meeting to offer an update on the work in her role as a transport safety champion. Whilst progress has been made on some of the recommendations, working closely with the DfT, Anne recognised that more extensive work is yet to come. A progress report on the implementation of the recommendations is set to be published in Spring 2024. Amongst the key challenges the champions are focusing on are:  

  • Involving women in the design of public infrastructure, designing in solutions to current issues; 
  • Reviewing current safeguarding practices, including standardising Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for all front facing staff across the transport industry; 
  • Making well trained staff more visible on the network; and 
  • Standardising the approach and access to data across networks. 

Nikki Swanson, UTG’s Safety and Security Group’s Chair and TravelSafe Officer at Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, joined the meeting to provide an insight into the work taking place in UTG member transport authorities. The effective working of the West Midlands’ Safer Travel Partnership and Merseytravel’s Travel Safe Partnership were presented as examples of how local police forces, the British Transport Police (BTP) and transport operators are working together to reduce crime, provide a visible support and lead behaviour change campaigns across all transport networks including rail, bus, tram and walking and cycling. 

Whilst our members are leading the way in making their public transport safe for all, they continue to face shared challenges, such as the lack of standardised and coordinated approaches across places and networks, the absence of updated legislative approaches (including ‘on board’ byelaws and taxi licensing) and a scarcity of targeted funding, particularly for officers like TSOs with transport focused powers.  

Finally, Ruth Cadbury MP, Chair of Women in Transport APPG, gave an overview of the most recent legislative progress, such as the London Pedicabs Bill, the 2021 safe street tool and the Harassment in Public Act 2023. She touched on the ongoing work of the Transport Committee as part of the Inclusive Travel Inquiry, which ought to also bring a focus of women’s experiences of safety. This brought the discussion on to one of the key current issues preventing progress in making places and public transport safer - the lack of women included in the transport planning process. By addressing this, solutions to many of the on-the-ground challenges could be designed in new transport and infrastructure schemes from the very start. In summing up, Ruth Cadbury MP highlighted the need for cross party and cross-governmental approach, particularly with the DfT and DLUHC needing to work more closer together. 

Throughout the in-depth discussions, key issues of coordination, capacity and funding emerged across our areas and the whole country. Our members’ work is a clear example of how effective partnerships can deliver results, but much work is yet to be done to establish a standardised, cross-modal approach across governmental departments and the country, which could provide solutions across networks and holistically address the whole public realm - not just the experience on different transport modes. Such work must take place in order to create the virtuous circle of trust, with increased safety leading to increased patronage, in turn fostering the perception of safety and further increasing patronage.  

Safety is a key tenet in the work to build trusted public transport networks. We will be addressing the issue of building trust in public transport in more depth in 2024, and this engaging APPG meeting discussion provided some valuable insights to inform this work.  

Monta Drozdova is Policy and Research Advisor at the Urban Transport Group 

The joint City Regions Transport and Women in Transport APPG meeting, ‘Restoring trust and safety in public transport networks’, took place on 12 December 2023.