Senedd backs call for legislative change to address concerns over safety of women on public transport

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

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The Senedd backed a call for legislative change following concerns that twice as many women as men do not use public transport out of fear for their safety.

Delyth Jewell outlined proposals for a public transport safety bill on monitoring and upgrading street lighting at bus stops, railway stations and the surrounding streets.

Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader said her bill would streamline the process for reporting abuse and provide for a review of the safety training offered to people working on public transport.

She advocated introducing a radical legal requirement on public transport providers to ensure passengers get to their destination, or a place of safety, after dark.

Ms Jewell stressed the importance of ensuring public transport is accessible for all, backing Guide Dogs Cymru’s calls on audio announcements, tactile wayfinding and step-free access.

‘Out of bounds’

She said: “This bill is about democratising public spaces, making sure those spaces meant for all of us aren’t out of bounds for people because society makes them more vulnerable.

“And it is about society. There is nothing about being a woman or being disabled or being gay or having any other characteristic that intrinsically sets us apart as being vulnerable.

“It’s the actions of others that make us more vulnerable or, in the case of disabled people, it’s about the choices we make as a society.”

Ms Jewell, who is Plaid Cymru’s shadow transport minister, raised the case of a constituent left stranded at Cardiff Queen Street after the time of the last train home was changed.

The South Wales East MS said: “She was abandoned and the station staff refused to help her; they said it wasn’t their problem. Her story didn’t end in a nightmare. Others will. This bill would seek to stop those nightmares happening.”

‘Great concern’

Natasha Asghar, the Tories’ shadow minister, backed the proposed legislation’s overarching aims, saying the safety of public transport has been a great concern.

Ms Asghar, who also represents South Wales East, told the chamber: “Public transportation should be reliable, it should be efficient and it should, most importantly, be secure.”

But she questioned the practical implementation of a duty to ensure passengers get to their destination, or a place of safety, after dark.

Sioned Williams, a Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales West, warned public transport is the fourth most common public setting for incidents of sexual harassment.

She said: “In Wales, 12% of women say they feel ‘very unsafe’ using public transport, which is not the case among men. Twice as many women as men say they don’t use public transport because they fear for their safety.”

‘Critically important’

Replying to the debate on March 12, Lee Waters, on behalf of the Welsh Government, said: “I’m not convinced that legislation is the right way to deal with this but deal with it we must.”

He told MSs there is undoubtedly a gendered element to the critically important debate.

Mr Waters added: “I was reminded of the famous Margaret Atwood comment that men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them.

“And I think that’s a sobering thought for men in particular to understand because that is often not something men instinctively do understand.”

Mr Waters, who last week announced he is likely to leave his post as deputy minister under the next first minister, stressed the need to work together on a practical way forward.

MSs agreed to note the proposal – with 32 for, none against and 13 abstaining.

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