More than half of women avoid using public transport at night, committee told

Routes typically focus on commuting to work than meeting care needs, report finds

Safety is women's "primary concern" using public-transport and 55 per cent avoid using it at night, an Oireachtas committee heard on Wednesday.

The Committee on Transport and Communications heard women, especially those on low incomes and from ethnic minorities, relied more on public transport than men, but “many will reject it…if the system doesn’t understand and meet their needs”.

The main reason women used public-transport was to meet care responsibilities, like school drop-offs. In contrast, the main reason men used it was to get to and from paid work.

Rachel Cahill, head of the chief executive's office in Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), outlined the of the the Travelling in a Women's Shoes report, published last year.


She said while many people believed public-transport was “gender-neutral”, more than one-quarter of women in Dublin and just under one-fifth of women nationally reported being verbally harassed or made to feel uncomfortable on public transport.

Slightly less than a quarter of Dublin women and 11 per cent nationally had witnessed “violent behaviour” or sexual harassment happening to someone else.

Dr Maria Chiara Leva, lecturer at TU Dublin's school of environmental health, who has also researched women's experiences of public transport, said "safety and security is a particular issue for women in low income groups and those belonging to an ethnic minority. These are also the groups that rely most on public transport."

The transport needs of women were often different to those of men, with journeys to meet care-needs, such as trips to and from school, hospital appointments and social inclusion events usually led by women, she said.

“Despite this, current public transport networks and services are typically focused on commuting to and from work.”

The focus on routes from the suburbs to urban centres, with services concentrated in the mornings and evenings did not meet these women’s needs, said Dr Leva. “These are often not the easiest routes for mobility of care [WHICH]are shorter, more local trips taken at irregular times.

“Men’s and women’s transport needs are different and recognising these difference will be fundamental to provide more equitable and sustainable mobility services. Women rely on public transport more than men but many will reject it…if the system doesn’t understand and meet their needs.”

Dr Leva said future public-transport planning should take into account “mobility-of -care journeys”. She said: “The proposed Bus Connects orbital bus routes and removal of fare penalties for transfer are welcome and we would recommend greater prioritisation of these orbital routes.”

Ms Cahill said the needs of children and family came up in “every interview” with women for the TII report.

“So designing [public-transport] for families and communities and not just for individuals [WAS NEEDED].”

Among the items women wanted more of were step-free transport options, hand-rails for children, and, comfortable seating.

Senator Jerry Buttimer (Fine Gael) described the TII report as "a breath of fresh air. It's a wake-up call, I hope, for public transport and for local authorities".

Senator Gerry Horkan (Fianna Fáil) said transport policy tended to be a male-dominated adding, of the 14 members of the committee, just one - Senator Lynn Boylan (Sinn Féin) - was a woman.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times