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Public transport workers to face DBS checks in clamp down on violence against women

A recent report commissioned by the Department of Transport and compiled by Transport for West Midlands, has made recommendations on ways to improve the safety of public transport networks in the UK, for girls and women. This commission comes as part of the UK Government’s latest push to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWGs) in the UK.

Key findings of the report included that 49% of women felt threatened when making a journey on public transport. 17% of women had seen other women or girls being physically threatened or assaulted when making a journey on public transport, with 14% of women reporting that it had happened to them directly. Substantial evidence also showed that fears for safety were affecting the development and life opportunities of women and girls whose transport options are limited – employment or training opportunities are regularly turned down, in order to avoid having to use public transport to get there.

The report recommends that the entire “end-to-end” journey should be considered in every instance, covering all modes of public transport and also taking into account the environmental factors of places such as railway or bus stations - ensuring good lighting, maintenance of equipment, adequate information provision, CCTV surveillance or security, and help points.

DBS checks for all front-facing public transport workers

The fifth recommendation of the report specifically advises that safeguarding practices should be reviewed and standardised to include Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks:

“Review current safeguarding practices and standardise Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for all front facing staff across the transport industry.”

The report details the reasoning for this recommendation as part of a wider strategy:

“Using the available resources such as staffing and deployment of police forces, at locations which will have the greatest impact on our transport networks, providing better training for staff on issues around VAWGs and stricter staffing safeguarding practices, were key suggestions to giving women and girls greater confidence in using our transport systems.”

Some areas of the public transport industry already have official standards in place; enhanced DBS checks have been a mandatory requirement for taxi and private hire drivers since 2012 (in the wake of taxi driver John Worboys who was convicted for attacks on 12 women in 2009). The Department of Transport’s Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards document was published in 2020, and also introduced requirements for full safeguarding training of staff. The Transport for West Midlands report however, suggests an introduction of DBS checks as standard across all front-facing roles in the UK transport industry, in an effort to provide a safer, more accessible service for the general public. The report states:

“Over the next three years, we would like to be at a stage where across the entire transport network, we have maximised compliance and there is a consistent application of safeguarding procedures in place across all transport modes.”

If this recommendation is followed and DBS checks become part of a standardised process across all front-facing public transport roles, this could represent one of the biggest changes in employment screening in the transport industry since the introduction of mandatory checks for taxi and private hire drivers in 2012.

Women employed in the transport industry

The Transport for West Midlands report also details that the lack of attention paid to the design of public spaces such as taxi ranks and bus or train stations may be a result of the lack of female representation in planning and design roles within the UK transport industry:

“Despite women on average making far more trips on public transport and active travel modes then men and being less likely to own a car, they are less likely to have designed the transport infrastructure and the public spaces around our transport nodes. Therefore, there has been minimal attention paid to the needs of women or the importance of addressing violence on our transport systems. This may partly be explained through only 20% of women working within the transport industry, and those who do, are working in more traditional roles and hence are less likely to be involved in the planning and design process of our transport systems.

The sixth recommendation of the report therefore advises transport networks to:

“encourage an increased uptake of women working in the transport industry” through campaigns, partnerships, leadership programmes and the encouragement of flexible working patterns.

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