It is essential that we redesign the transport system to become carbon neutral. Transport is now the largest source of carbon emissions in Scotland and the UK. Whereas advances in other sectors have led to reductions, transport emissions remain stubbornly at a similar level to 30 years ago. The move to a decarbonised transport system is also an opportunity to reduce inequality, and make the systems we rely on everyday fairer. However, this transition must also be fair in itself. In essence, we need a just transition that ensures that not only do we create a more equal and more sustainable transport system, but that the benefits and costs of this decarbonisation are shared fairly.
One key consideration when decarbonising the transport system is the impact the changes will have on different demographics including women, who often have different travel needs from men. Including gender as a factor when making decisions about how to decarbonise the transport system will help us improve equality and create a fairer society.
Women’s Use of Public Transport
Across the world, including in developed nations like Scotland, women are more likely to walk or use public transport while men are more likely to drive.1 There are many ways in which our current transport system, which prioritises car use, does not take into account the needs of women. One frequently cited example is that of the city of Karskoga, in Sweden. When the city changed its priorities and started clearing snow from pedestrian walkways and bus stops before the main roads, it found that pedestrian injuries dropped substantially, saving their healthcare system money. As more of the pedestrians were women the safety of women in the city was improved by these changes.2
An increase in the connectivity and accessibility of the public transport system could advance social and economic opportunities of women, principally, by giving women the means to travel further to seek better paid work. However, increased connectivity could also empower women by giving them more opportunities to access support (i.e. childcare or family support), education and culture and art.
How Women Travel
Research also shows other ways that women travel differently from men. Aside from walking and using public transport more, women are more likely to be travelling with dependents including children and elderly relatives. Therefore, as pedestrians, women will find it more difficult to navigate narrow and uneven footpaths. When Vienna adapted city planning to take women’s needs into account they opted to widen footpaths and improve street lighting. UN Women have suggested the same measures be adopted in other countries.3 Similarly, when Barcelona changed its approach to city planning to take women’s needs into account it opted to lower speed limits and add additional pedestrian crossings.
Similarly women travelling with dependents and prams will require more spaces on public transport. When planning for a decarbonised transport system, consideration should be given to how women use public transport and the space they may need to go about their daily lives.
Transforming our transport system also gives us the opportunity to create a safer transport system for women. Research by the Mineta Transport Institute found that almost half of women felt unsafe while waiting at a bus stop after dark and the majority of women felt unsafe waiting on a train platform and walking home from the station or bus stop at night.4 It is not uncommon for women to receive unwanted sexual advances while on public transport, and there are still frequent reports of sexual assaults happening on public transport. In one recent case, a man admitted to assaulting three women and a 14 year old girl on buses in Glasgow.5
When decarbonising our public transport system we should address the legitimate safety concerns that women have. Scotland should consider the lessons learnt from other cities who have improved lighting at transport hubs and the surrounding streets and put digital timetables at all bus stops in an attempt to improve the safety of people using public transport.
Throughout the transition, it is essential that we take into account the needs of different demographics, including women, those living in rural locations, as well as the people who work in the transport sector whose livelihoods may be affected.
After publishing its interim report, the Just Transition Commission has invited written submissions to inform the development of its final recommendations to the Scottish Government. 2050 Climate Group’s policy team will be responding to the consultation to provide young people’s perspectives on these issues. We want to hear the views of young people in Scotland on the transition of the transport sector and what key considerations should be made.
You can find the survey in the link here. The deadline for responding is 7pm on 20th May 2020.