Make mobility safer and easier for women

The Automobile Association (AA) says that in Women’s Month this year, more focus must be directed towards providing access to transport for women. Access to transport – whether it be public or private transport – is of significance to the rights and equality of women.

Limited or inadequate access to transport may contribute to limiting the quality of life, access to learning, employment, and cultural and leisure opportunities for women. Official data from StatsSA indicates that only 21.8% of women in South Africa have driving licences compared to 40.1% of men. As the country commemorates Women’s Month, the ÁA calls on the government to do more to ensure that mobility for women is safer, more reliable, more efficient, and more accessible.

“StatsSA says that safe transport is crucial for women to access decent work, particularly if they depend on public transport and must travel late at night. Gender-based violence risks increase for women traveling, including when walking to and from where they get their transport, or when waiting at public transportation boarding points or stations such as bus and train stations or taxi ranks. Safety is a major concern that affects women and girls disproportionately, and this again highlights the need for better public transport in areas for those who need it most,” says the AA.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), vulnerable road users like women and pedestrians are disproportionately impacted by road-related deaths globally, with pedestrians and cyclists representing 26% of all road related deaths. The WHO further notes that 29% of all deaths are car occupants, with 23% pedestrian fatalities globally. Pedestrians’ fatalities contribute 40% of all road fatalities in South Africa, and this is a big a challenge.

“Research from the University of Pretoria on women and mobility notes that in households where a car is available, men usually use the vehicle more than women. Thus, safety and access concerns should be key factors for women when it comes to making mobility decisions, like bus routes, affordability, and easier access to public transport,” remarks the AA.

The AA notes that lifestyle differences still dominate urban mobility patterns. This makes the use of private cars, taxis, and e-hailing options attractive and, from a woman’s perspective, often-times unavoidable as walking to places of convenience could raise safety concerns.

Unfortunately, overcrowding, delays or unreliable public transport services have a higher impact on women than men. Trips made by women are typically characterised by off-peak hour trips, trip chaining such as grouping multiple activities and/or destinations into a single trip and have higher chances of carrying packages or travelling with children. These factors make women even more vulnerable to harassment as standard public transport services do not account for them and thus cater to these trip characteristics as proven by the WRI Ross Centre for sustainable cities.

“Efficient and reliable public transport remains a major problem in South Africa and unless government takes urgent steps to address these challenges, the situation will only get worse. Adding to the problem are rolling blackouts which result in street and traffic lights not working, and a lack of visible law enforcement, especially at public transport boarding hubs. The Department of Transport simply must do more to improve this situation, particularly as it celebrates the importance of women in our society,” the AA concludes.