* Bogota ranked as having most dangerous transport for women
* Experts say safe transport critical for women to work, study
* Opinion divided on effectiveness of women-only transport
By Crina Boros
LONDON, Oct 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Latin American cities have the most dangerous transport systems for women with about six in every 10 women physically harassed, while New York City is safest, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of some of the world’s largest cities.
The poll of 15 of the world’s largest capitals and New York, the most populous U.S. city, found Bogota in Colombia ranked as having the most unsafe public transport, with women scared to travel after dark, followed by Mexico City, Lima, then Delhi.
The survey of more than 6,550 women and gender experts ranked Moscow as the worst European capital, coming ninth in the list, with women lacking confidence that authorities would investigate reports of abuse. Paris came 11th due to little confidence that other passengers would help a woman in trouble.
New York was rated the best of the 16 cities by women and experts asked their views on women’s safety on trains and buses in their cities, followed by Tokyo, the world’s largest capital with 38 million people, then Beijing and London.
The survey, conducted online by pollster YouGov and with the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s own investigation with specialists in each city, was released on Wednesday as studies repeatedly show a link between safe transport and women’s economic empowerment and ability to work and study.
Mary Crass, head of policy at the International Transport Forum, an OECD think-tank, said it was worrying that women were scared to use public transport in some major cities and the poll highlighted the need for more action.
“When there is not frequent, reliable, accessible transport, this can affect women and anyone’s ability to access opportunity and notably employment in urban areas, which can make a big difference for women in particular,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“(Women) tend to be more reliant on public transport ... particularly in low income or middle-income countries, in emerging economies.”
The survey, conducted as a rising number of cities ramp up efforts to tackle sexual harassment on public transport, asked women as well as gender and city planning experts from 15 of the United Nations list of 20 largest capitals six questions about their perception of safety on public transport.
Polling could not be conducted in five of the largest capitals - Cairo, Dhaka, Kinshasa, Tehran and Baghdad - due to conflict or YouGov and its polling partners being unable to guarantee the necessary online sample of women.
But 10 experts in Cairo, the world’s fifth largest capital, questioned by the Thomson Reuters Foundation gave ratings for their transport system which would have put the Egyptian capital among the five worst cities in the survey.
After the Latin American cities and Delhi, the fifth worst in the list was Jakarta, followed by Buenos Aires, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Moscow, Manila, Paris and Seoul.
The six questions focused on overall perception about safety on public transport, whether it was safe after dark, how at risk women were of verbal or physical abuse, and confidence in the authorities dealing with reports of abuse or public help.
Bogota, a city of 9.6 million people by United Nations figures that has no city train system but a network of red buses, came out worst when it came to overall safety and travelling after dark.
“Buses aren’t safe. You can get your bag or cell phone stolen and be harassed. When the bus is so packed it’s easy for men to rub up against you and grope you,” said Paula Reyes, a supermarket cashier in Bogota.
“There’s a total lack of respect for women here.”
Bogota, the world’s 16th largest capital, was ranked as the most unsafe city for women to travel alone at night, followed by Delhi, the second largest capital with 25 million people.
The gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old female student on a bus late at night in Delhi in December 2012 horrified the city and prompted calls for action to improve safety for women.
Mexico City, the third largest capital with 21 million people, fared worst when women were asked if they were at risk of verbal or physical abuse on public transport.
More than six out of 10 women in Mexico City, 64 percent, polled online by YouGov said they had been groped or experienced some type of physical harassment on public transport.
“Violence against women and girls is one of the country’s structural problems with elevated levels of impunity,” U.N. Women’s Mexico representative Ana Guezmes Garcia said.
By contrast only three out of 10 women surveyed in New York said they had suffered any kind of verbal or physical harassment while using the city’s extensive subway system and buses.
“I’ve been living in New York for six years. I ride the subway and take the bus occasionally .. and I’ve never been harassed, not that I can remember,” said New York city worker Sarah Williams, 34.
Women in Moscow ranked the Russian capital as worst when it came to confidence in authorities investigating harassment.
Seoul in South Korea ranked 12th in the overall survey but fared worst when women were asked how confident they were that other passengers would assist a woman in trouble.
Ji-hye Lee, a 23-year-old reporter with the Korea Times newspaper, was not surprised by the poll findings and said Korean men and women alike would blame the woman being harassed.
“Women feel like they should avoid trouble, and they feel they’re responsible if there is trouble,” said Lee, adding the subway at night is often full of drunks. “A lot of my friends would say why were you taking public transportation at night anyway?”
New York came top for safety, having transformed its subway and bus system in the past 25 years. Metropolitan Transit Authority figures released this year showed subway usage at 1.7 billion in the past year, the highest in 60 years.
The city was hailed for its growing network of CCTV security cameras on streets and transit lines, interactive Help Point communications kiosks, and obvious police presence.
“I love New York City transportation. It might be the safest place in New York. There are cameras everywhere. I always felt safe, even late at night,” said Francesca, a filmmaker and student at Hunter College, who declined to give her last name.
Tokyo was rated second for safety, which experts attributed to a raft of measures taken in the city in recent years to combat groping of women in often overcrowded buses and trains.
Tokyo was one of the first major capitals to introduce women-only trains in 2000, colour-coding these areas in pink with well-displayed signs and transit police to enforce rules.
Women-only sections on public transport are now also found in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Delhi, Cairo and Manila among others, while other cities, including London, are mulling this option, introducing CCTV on platforms and improving lighting.
The index on public transport for women was based on YouGov responses from almost 6,300 women from the 16 cities and a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of at least nine experts in each city including women’s rights activists, gender studies academics, urban planning architects and lawyers.
The responses were compiled into an index by the Thomson Reuters StarMine Quantitative Research Team, experts at creating analytics and quantitative models from large amounts of data. (For all poll stories go to poll2014.trust.org; Additional reporting by Anastasia Moloney in Bogota, Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Maria Caspani in New York, Dongwei Liu in Beijing, Alisa Tang in Bangkok, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)