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How the Move Towards Cleaner Transport Fails to Address Safety

sustainable transport

Sustainable transport solutions are constantly in the headlines as a means to fight climate change, but there is a missing link. People’s safety perceptions and risks need to be addressed. Failing to do this will reduce their adoption of alternative forms of sustainable transport – and the environment will pay the price.          

The transport sector is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the UK. Over a quarter (28%) of all GHG comes from domestic usage – road, rail, aviation, and shipping. 

The UK Government’s Decarbonising Transport Plan encourages us to leave our cars at home and find cleaner ways to get around. 

It states: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities. We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective, and coherent public transport network.”

However, there are reasons why people prefer to use cars and pass on other green alternatives – and safety remains an overlooked issue in transport decisions. Safety and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, but the current sustainability plans don’t include how people perceive the risks and the variety of different experiences of safety that contribute to how they decide to get around.     

Designing safer transport systems

Many transport giants have a blanket approach to safety, to reduce accidents that physically injure passengers (and others). But what about the other aspects of their safety, like being free from harassment, hate, and other forms of discrimination?

There are even more factors to be considered in bridging that gap between active transport and micro-mobility. This includes the environment that travellers need to move through, the time of day, the different types of risks to demographic groups, and their previous experiences of safety on that form of transport.

Sustainable transport designs need to start with our basic human rights and need to be safe from harm, violence, harassment, and abuse. Since the deaths of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard, many women feel that even a short walk may be a threat to their lives. 

Yet we’re still not seeing this built into forthcoming transport designs and plans. This needs to become a no-brainer, an obvious inclusion, rather than an afterthought.

The decision-makers who are developing sustainable transport systems do not do enough to consider holistic and diverse perspectives of safety to shift from private to public travel.

Risks, equity, and accessibility

The design of transport systems needs to consider not only the journey but also the means of accessing that transport. Anyone who has experienced harassment, abuse, or violence while travelling, or is a member of a group that disproportionately experiences such behaviour, may be less comfortable waiting at an isolated bus stop or on an unstaffed platform. It is impossible (and likely unwanted) to have a guardian follow you around to keep you safe wherever you go.

There is a simple solution – one which Safe & the City has developed through i3 Intelligence. Our technologies utilise crowdsourced intelligence, learning from peoples’ collective and shared experiences across specific locations, times, and types of transport. It’s important to appreciate that safety isn’t the same for everyone, but technology can deliver a personalised experience while building intelligence to improve 

the designs of our systems to become more sustainable and safer. This enables everyone to feel safer while travelling, disincentivises perpetrators through fear of being caught, and encourages more people to adopt newer forms of sustainable transport. It wouldn’t take a massive leap or require a huge investment to enable safety solutions in sustainable transport systems.

Sustainable transport must prioritise people’s safety over only profits and technology is part of the solution.

The opportunity for tech to work together to make transport options safer

Nearly all parts of our journey are accompanied by our devices, which gives the UK a big opportunity for the tech industry to lead real change. Imagine if any journey planner could offer a well-lit route that felt safer to meet a friend at a pub and receive important and personalised updates about safety along your way. This is possible and can be integrated into any app that helps people connect in the real world.  

i3 Intelligence (SaaS) provides real-time information to any device to highlight the risks where you are. This empowers people to make choices about their safety and equips transport operators with information to continually improve people’s safety while travelling.          

Time for radical change

“We need to make walking, cycling, and public transport cheaper, faster, safer, and more convenient than driving if we are to reduce private motor vehicle use across the UK.”  Sustrans.

Without bridging this safety gap, we won’t make the sustainable shift we desperately need for our transport sector to reduce the impact of the largest GHG contributor to prevent harm to ourselves and future generations.



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