Following a report released by Transport Scotland on Tuesday, which made 10 suggestions to make public transport in Scotland safer, MSPs held a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament.
Transport minister Jenny Gilruth opened the debate by setting out the detailed findings in the report, adding it showed how “exhausting” it is to be a woman in modern Scotland.
The SNP MSP said that as the first woman to hold that ministerial role in two decades she “cares deeply” about the experiences of women and girls using the transport system, and noted that the industry itself was still heavily male-dominated.
Gilruth said across Scotland and the rest of the world, women and girls were having to “adapt” their behaviour to feel safer.
She added: “Our transport networks need to change to better accommodate and reflect women’s lived experience, particularly, and importantly, given that women are far more likely to depend on public transport than men.”
Gilruth said the findings of the review from Transport Scotland found that a third of women who took part were concerned about their personal safety while using public transport, compared to only a quarter of men surveyed.
Women and girls recounted previous experiences of being the target of inappropriate comments that were sexual in nature and unwanted attention from male passengers.
“The majority of contributors seemed to accept that that was typical or not unexpected when travelling by public transport, especially late at night.
“It is deeply concerning that this type of behaviour has become normalised to the extent it is accepted and tolerated.
“To tolerate is to allow the existence of something that one dislikes or fundamentally disagrees with.”
Gilruth said women shouldn’t have to tolerate this and should be allowed to travel safely, adding that men should “learn how to behave themselves”.
“In some cases women from ethnic minorities face particular difficulties, with some speaking of having been subjected to racist verbal abuse and comments from other passengers.
“I think everyone in the chamber would agree, that is not acceptable in a modern Scotland.”
The motion of debate, moved by Gilruth, would commit to a summit with stakeholders in the Scottish transport sector, to discuss the recommendations and how to implement them.
Scottish Tory MSP Graham Simpson said the Scottish Government research was “good”, adding: “I would say at the outset though, that everyone has the right to feel safe on public transport be they female, or male, whatever their background, or race, be they able-bodied or disabled.”
Simpson said that he avoids late-night trains due to “drunken behaviour”, especially when with his wife, to which SNP MSP Fiona Hyslop intervened to say he seemed to be “struggling” with the issue.
She said: “Could he give some indication that he genuinely understands the personal, very isolated, and really defensive feeling many women do face. Does he agree with me that it’s actually very important that this parliament does debate this issue because it affects so many women, not just somebody who goes home with him on the last train or not at night?”
Simpson replied that he “rejected” Hyslop’s assertion and that he understands women “face particular issues” on public transport.
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He added: “I know the report’s recommendation in this area, but it is a tricky area. I don’t think you can have a one size fits all approach.”
Scottish Labour’s Neil Bibby, who moved an amendment relating to Scotrail staffing and accessibility on the transport network, said that although this issue was not new it was a “growing issue”.
Bibby said the problem stemmed from the behaviour of “aggressive and abusive men and boys”.
He added: “I’ve said before and obviously again, there’s a duty and all of us, including men, to do whatever it takes to help tackle this issue including challenging the behaviour of other men, whether strangers or friends.
“That is a cultural problem. I also don’t think it’s possible for me to fully appreciate the experiences and feelings of women and girls when using public transport.
“But there’s a duty on all men to try to fully understand them and to do something about it.”
Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said that if women and girls can’t travel safely then their participation in other aspects of live with be “inevitably limited” from work and study, to sport and activism.
She said: “We cannot afford to lose their contributions. We need to address the cause of women’s and girls’ experiences of danger and hostility, not just mitigate its effects.
“And the cause, let us be frank, is misogyny. A misogyny which often intersects, brutally, with other forms of bigotry and bullying, including racism, homophobia and transphobia.
“Technical responses, monitoring and infrastructure, are welcome but they can’t be the whole answer. Because this isn’t, fundamentally, an issue of technology, it’s an issue of people.
“When it comes to public transport, we need to see what we saw on Kenmure Street, what we see in neighbourhood food larders and climate camps, that is a sense of shared responsibility for one another, of solidarity, and the creation and nurturing of a culture of care.”
Chapman added that she was pleased the report recommended workers on late or night time shifts are provided with safe transport to return home, similar to what her proposed Members Bill on the issue would seek to do.
Transport Scotland’s report recommended introducing systems to regularly monitor, repair and upgrade lighting and communication systems across the network, exploring increasing the presence and visibility of staff, and a comprehensive review of staff training on both their own safety and how to support passengers.
Simpson’s amendment, encouraging victims of crime to use the British Transport Police app and text service, passed unanimously.
Bibby’s amendment on Scotrail cuts and staffing members was not agreed upon, with 51 votes for Yes and 63 No.
Gilruth’s motion passed with unanimous agreement from the chamber.