Compared to 15 of the world's largest capital cities, New York City has the safest public transportation system for women and Bogotá has the most dangerous, according to a survey published Tuesday by Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 women in the 15 most populous world capitals and New York City to gauge women’s experiences with harassment and violence while riding public transportation. Survey questions focused on how safe women felt taking public transportation after dark, perceived risk and experience with verbal and physical harassment, the likelihood of bystander assistance and trust in authorities handling reported cases.
Cities were then scored and ranked in order of how safe their public transport systems are for women.
New York City led the pack with Tokyo and Beijing coming in second and third. Latin American cities ranked the lowest, with Bogotá being the worst, and Mexico City and Lima not too far ahead.
"Public transport is a nightmare," explained Beatriz Rodriguez, 26, a domestic worker and resident of Bogotá. "Mobile phones are frequently stolen, and you can be a victim of harassment as I've been."
"At first I thought what I felt against my back was a bag, but when I turned around, I realized it was a man rubbing up against me, exposing himself," she lamented. "It's disgusting to have to face this on your way to work."
The survey’s findings reveal far-reaching consequences for women, especially those who live in low- or middle-income areas where they “tend to be more reliant on public transport and on non-motorized means,” said Mary Crass, head of policy at the International Transport Forum, an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) think-tank.
"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 added.
In the United States, a record 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are the sole or primary source of income for the family. Single mothers, with a median annual income of $23,000, are more likely to be dependent on public transportation to commute to their jobs, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In New York City 30 percent of women surveyed reported having experienced verbal or physical abuse while riding the city’s public transportation system, while in Mexico City more than 60 percent reported such violence.
Researchers attributed the relative safety of New York City’s transport system to its extensive use of CCTV cameras, heavy police presence and communication points where concerned passengers could report abuse. Earlier this month, The New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) announced that it had ordered 940 new subway cars equipped with cameras to serve as further deterrents inside carriages — where most harassment takes place.
The city’s dimly lit trains, dangerous stations and rampant crime rates of the 1990s are but vague memories of the 1.7 billion people who ride its subway annually.
"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.
In addition to cameras and police officers, an increasing number of cities are also experimenting with women-only zones within public transport systems to mitigate the problem of sexual harassment.
In Abu Dhabi and Mexico City, women already make use of designated, pink taxis and train cars.
While 70 percent of women surveyed by Thomson Reuters Foundation said they would feel safer in single-sex zones, women in many of the highest ranking cities — including New York City, Moscow, London and Paris — saw little need for it.
Advocates for women’s rights have also said the idea is more of a “band-aid” than a solution — as it requires women to change their behavior instead of addressing the root causes of the problem.
Emily May, co-founder of anti-harassment group Hollaback! in New York, said there was no "one size fits all" solution to stop harassment on transportation systems.
"There certainly are people in some countries in which women-only carriages have been implemented that love them and feel so much safer because of them," May said.
“We don't want to be telling women that they have to ride in a different car or that they have to walk down a different street or wear different clothes."
Cairo, Dhaka, Kinshasa, Tehran and Baghdad could not be surveyed due to logistic limitations.
SLIDESHOW: WORLD'S WORST TRANSPORT SYSTEMS FOR WOMEN