Sydney should join tech-driven security drive for women on public transport

Sydney would be well advised to follow the example of South American authorities in surveying the needs and dangers women face in using public transport and what can be done to improve overall safety.

NSW transport authorities tend to regard all public transport users as commuters without differentiating between genders, which reduces the statistics available to evaluate female-specific safety measures.

Electronic data collection is playing a leading role overseas in determining the travel routes of women on public transport so their safety is better protected.

Authorities are collecting mobile phone data and high definition satellite imagery to compile a clearer picture of how women travel and at what times.

A prime target for better safety measures is Bogota, the capital of Colombia, said to have the world’s most dangerous transport system for women.

A poll in 2015 showed that all Bogota women felt unsafe on public transport, particularly at night, and complained of harassment and groping in transit.

The main source of transport in Bogota is the Transmilenio bus service, which is frequently overcrowded, leading to cramped trips and exposing women to sexual assault.

Six commuters are jammed into every square metre of available space on Bogota’s bus service. In Sweden just two commuters share the same space.

No exact figures are available for NSW transport but anyone who has travelled on public trains and buses – especially in peak hours or other busy periods – knows it’s closer to Bogota’s overcrowding than Sweden’s more comfortable ratio.

The push for safer public transport for women is now spreading to other countries, driven by rising figures of troubling behaviour by other travellers.

Like Colombia, Chile has a sexual harassment problem on public transport. Five out of 10 women reported sexual harassment on in 2015.

Authorities in Santiago, Chile are testing the feasibility of collecting female specific transport routines using mobile phone data and high definition satellite imagery to map the journeys of the city’s female travellers.

“When we went into this, we knew intuitively that gender played a role in the way people move,” says Natalia Adler, a policy manager for UNICEF and one of the project’s leaders.

“If I ask a woman `Would you walk in this street if it’s too dark or too isolated. If you see a bunch of construction workers down the street, would you cross the road?

“We all know that happens. Until now we have not had the data to conform it.”

The project team will use aggregated and anonymous mobile phone call data provided by the Telefonica network to establish how women and girls travel through the city. It will be combined with official government data on population, transport, crime and socioeconomic indicators as well as satellite imagery.

The need to improve the safety of women in threatening public transport situations also has the support of the $50 billion Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

“What we don’t measure, we don’t work on. We haven’t measured women.’ Melinda Gates told Bloomberg in 2017

The foundation has pledged more than $80 million over three years to eradicate the gender data gap.