Separate public transport for women

Women in western countries often complain about sexual harassment on public transport. In Britain there is a website and a Twitter account which collect women’s experiences of ‘everyday sexism’: harassment on public transport is a prominent theme.

Generalised feminist anger at men’s behaviour is however inappropriate. There is simple answer to the problem, it has been tested in practice, and it works: gender segregation on public transport. It usually means separate carriages for women on urban metro systems. These trains are composed of multiple carriages (‘cars’ in US usage), so that a specific carriage can be reserved for women. Some buses are also segregated, meaning that one section of a single vehicle is reserved for women. A single vehicle can be reserved for women, at present only in the form of women-only taxis.

Gender-segregated public transport is a good example of how to create a parallel society for women, suggested here earlier as a state response to feminism.

The public transport system in a large European city typically includes a metro, a regional metro or commuter rail lines, bus services, and night bus services. Metro and commuter trains can certainly include a separate women-only section: no technical modifications are required. On some stations, it may be possible to allocate a separate waiting area on the platform, so that women could directly access the women-only section of the train. Separate station access would only be possible in rare cases. Underground stations must keep all passageways open for emergencies, so separate women’s entry/exit is impossible there.

Modern city buses are designed to open all doors at stops, for quick entrance and exit. Usually, the only possible segregated area is at the rear, without a separate door. An alternative to segregating each bus, is separate women-only buses on high-frequency routes. For instance, every alternate bus could be women-only: that might apply only at peak times. Again no technical modifications are needed, just an indication of which bus is for women.

Women-only buses are certainly the solution for night bus routes, which probably carry the highest risk of harassment. Frequencies are typically low, so the segregated buses would run just after each other. That double provision would need to be subsidised.

Intercity trains are be more difficult to partition: the number of doors is limited, and passengers may need to walk along the train. However, for reasons that are worth investigating, women don’t seem to report harassment on long-distance trains. (In some countries they are much more expensive than other trains, and therefore socially segregated already).

In some city centres it may be possible to segregate pedestrian access to public transport. That could be done with short sections of women-only street, and in some areas perhaps a few women-only bus stops. Pavements can in theory be segregated, with a longitudinal women-only strip, about 4 metres wide. Obviously, this kind of provision is not possible in narrow streets.

Women-only taxis, on the other hand, require no specific investment, infrastructure, or technical changes. It is merely a question of organising them, with perhaps a limited initial subsidy. After that, the economics are the same as that of any other taxi. In some countries, women-only taxis and buses, and separate space on trains, might conflict with anti-discrimination laws, which need amending.

Gender segregation in public transport is a good example of how segregation works in a positive way, and benefits the weak. It can serve as a model for other forms of segregation in public transport, and for other forms of women-only facilities in traditionally mixed services. Obviously women need many more separate facilities, to enable then to avoid men entirely, but that is no reason to avoid limited-scale innovations.