The sad and shocking murder of Sarah Everard in London on 3 March 2021 is widely seen as a turning point when it comes to openly discussing the rooted culture of male harassment and violence against women and girls. It rightly ignited protests and calls from all sections of community for change and for men to question their own behaviours.
In March a hard-hitting advertising campaign was launched around the UK asking men to do more to stop the abuse they witness and call out colleagues and friends who show harmful behaviours towards women.
In a public facing role, taxi drivers can help improve women’s safety in several scenarios and some view this as a unique selling point (USP) in comparison to other modes of transport.
What can the taxi industry do to make women feel safer in the taxi?
According to the latest Department for Transport (DfT) statistics, most taxi and private hire drivers are male. In fact, 93% of cab drivers are men. While the proportion of female drivers has increased from 2% in recent years to 7% in 2020/21, women trying to get home late at night are most likely to be taxied home by a man.
It might sound simple but male cabbies must first have an understanding of what’s acceptable and what’s not when communicating with women. Given the personal nature of a taxi trip, women must be able to trust that a taxi is a safe place and driven by a fully vetted cabbie.
Basic safety promises could be made to help assist women get home safely and make them less anxious of trips. Explaining the route you plan to take and waiting for lone females to enter their homes once dropped off can help ease some concerns late at night.
Women do not necessarily need to be alone to be at risk. Stepping in and challenging unwanted conversations or abuse is paramount. Also having the knowledge of where to report the incident and how to safely deal with the situation is important.
Trudy Harrison, Department for Transport (DfT) Minister, spoke on the topic of safety on public transport saying: “Everyone has the right to feel safe when travelling and using public spaces and we are determined to improve the safety of our transport network. The Department is working closely with the Home Office on the cross- departmental strategy to address Violence Against Women and Girls.
“Taxi and private hire vehicle drivers are licensed by local licensing authorities who are responsible for determining the criteria that must be met in order for them to decide whether a person is 'fit and proper' to hold a licence, including a requirement to pay regard to the need to eliminate conduct prohibited by the Equality Act 2010.
“The Department will shortly consult on revised best practice guidance to assist licensing authorities in carrying out their licensing function.”
It’s not just within the taxi where drivers can help.
In 2020/21 there were 343,000 licensed taxi and PHV drivers in England alone. Due to the nature of the job the coverage is huge, and their locations dictated heavily by passenger destinations.
Taxi drivers are witnesses to both the good and bad of human behaviour on a daily basis. They can literally be the eyes and ears of the communities they work in.
Taxi drivers are likely to see vulnerable lone women in potentially dangerous situations whilst driving around. Again, a knowledge of how to report your concerns for that individual is required.
Licensing authorities and councils can play a big part in the next steps to help make taxis a viable option for all women.
During a recent meeting, Transport for London (TfL) Finance Committee board member Anurag Gupta expressed concerns around women’s safety, especially late at night. Gupta was keen to stress the importance of black cabs in the capital in providing a safe mode of transport for women at night.
Gupta suggested the freezing of late-night fares and ensuring night time tariffs are kept fair for both cabbie and the general public was “an important part for woman’s safety”.
Gupta added: “Black cabs are an important part of women’s safety and especially if we do have to cut bus routes because of funding impacts, my worry is that we should not drive black cabs off in the night, yet at the same time we must make sure it remains affordable because it is an important part, especially in women’s safety.”
Access to all areas must also be maintained to both keep metered fares low and to allow the safe door to door service women need. As a result, it could be argued Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and closed roads all impact women’s safety negatively, certainly when it comes to cost.
Proactive thinking across the sector on the topic of women’s safety is needed. The industry is in a unique highly trusted position and that should be championed into a black cab USP.