City and transport planners must ensure public spaces, including public transport, are “safe for everybody”, following the murder of Sarah Everard.
That’s the message from Laura Shoaf, newly appointed chair of the Urban Transport Group and managing director of Transport for West Midlands (TfWM).
Shoaf suggests that, historically, the focus has been on making public transport and public spaces safe and accessible for people with disabilities and Everard's murder is a "reminder" to "make sure that what we do is right for everybody".
Everard was last seen walking home in London on March 3. Her body was later found in woodland in Kent and Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens has been charged with her kidnap and murder.
"I don't think anyone could have expected what happened to her to have happened to her. But that doesn't mean that we can't make safer spaces for for everybody," Shoaf said. "There are basic things that can be done."
Following a public outcry to Everard's murder, the Government has said it will add £25 million to the Safer Streets fund, which provides neighbourhood measures such as better lighting and CCTV.
Shoaf, who is a qualified urban planner, believes that lighting is important but also calls for a wider ‘safety by design’ approach so when public spaces are designed, elements are incorporated that will “make that space inherently safer”.
“You start with the premise that this needs to be a safe space, and then design that space around that,” she said.
The challenge is that so many public spaces in the UK were not created in that way and “need to be confidently retrofitted to be fit for purpose”, according to Shoaf.
How does it feel to be a passenger?
Shoaf believes that more thought needs to be given to whether passengers feel safe on public transport.
“Public transport is safe, the stats will show that but the perception of safety on public transport doesn't necessarily match the statistics,” she said.
“So it’s really important that we address how it feels to be a passenger.”
Measures could include having different seating arrangements on buses so that people face each other rather then being in rows, and screens which allow both the bus driver and the passengers to see each other.
For other forms of transport, such as light rail, the ability to see all the way through the carriages could also reassure people, Shoaf suggests.
For smartphone users, apps can assist in “making people feel more confident and safe using transport” by, for example, telling passengers when it’s time to get off a bus.
A police presence is also important.
TfWM has formed a partnership with West Midlands Police and British Transport Police, called the Safer Travel Partnership, which works to identify areas of the network vulnerable to crime, anti-social and nuisance behaviour.
“We target hotspots where there tends to be anti-social behaviour, where people come back to us and say 'we feel particularly unsafe here',” Shoaf said.
The Government has said that it will roll out pilots of ‘Project Vigilant’ across the country. This is an approach taken by Thames Valley Police where both uniformed and plain clothes officers identify predatory and suspicious offenders in the night time economy.
This can involve officers attending areas around clubs and bars undercover to better ensure women are safe in these locations, and increased patrols as people leave at closing time.
Project Vigilant, along with the doubling of the Safer Streets fund, “will complement existing action being taken to address violence against women and girls and keep them safe”, the Government said.
This includes toughening sentences for serious violence and sexual assaults through the Police Crime and Sentencing Bill and measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill to improve protections for victims and create news offences, such as non-fatal strangulation.
Online event on women’s safety and what can be done to implement change
Bauer Media, the publishers of Smart Transport, will be hosting an online event 'We Need To Talk About Women’s Safety' on Wednesday, March 31 at 8pm, marking four weeks since Everard was reported missing.
The event will be streamed on Closer's YouTube channel and will available to watch afterwards.
You can join the discussion with the hashtag #IWalkWithWomen
Trigger warning: You might find subjects in this discussion distressing. If you need any help and support you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.