Buses have long been the site of landmark struggles for civil rights and social equality. Most famously, the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott – led by Martin Luther King and sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks in December 1955 – proved to be a key catalyst for the US civil rights movement of the following decade.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott had a British counterpart, too. In 1963 – exactly 60 years ago this year – there was a four-month boycott of buses in Bristol, in protest at the local bus company’s refusal to employ Black and Asian workers as drivers and conductors. The Bristol Bus Boycott, as it is known, is considered to have been instrumental in the passing of subsequent anti-racism laws.

You might think that all of this is only of historical interest, but in fact the struggle for equality on public transport continues today. And, for all the progress the UK bus industry has made, it still has much further to go before it can be said to have reached full equality, right across the board.

 

Inequality, discrimination and public transport

According to the 2019 National Travel Survey, women take 56 bus journeys per year, on average. This is 30% more than men, who take an average of 43 bus journeys. Women also travelled an average of 52 miles more than men by bus every year, the study found.

Despite this, women make up on 18% of public transport employees in England – and the key decision-makers in the industry are overwhelmingly both white and male. This means that although women travel more by bus than men, their needs don’t always get the consideration they deserve, and the industry’s workforce is still a long way from being truly representative of the public it serves.

Nor is it just gender inequality that continues to impact the UK bus industry and the way it operates; racial inequality remains a pressing concern, too. But the fact that industry leaders remain overwhelmingly white has all too often meant that the needs of Black and minority ethnic passengers have been given short shrift in areas such as route planning and timetabling; as a result, they have tended to be less well-served as commuters.

Another area that cannot be overlooked is disability. Disabled passengers face particular challenges when using public transport, and this is something that continues to deter many people from using buses and trains. This, in turn, hinders their ability to travel and limits their opportunities.

 

ED&I and why it matters

This brings us on to equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I). In recent years, there’s been much more appreciation of ED&I in the transport industry; in particular, this has seen bus and rail operators step up their efforts to recruit staff at all levels from more diverse backgrounds.

While this recognition of the importance of ED&I is encouraging, it’s clear that there remains much more work to be done. The Office for National Statistics stated in 2021 that of the UK’s bus and coach drivers, only 11% were women; however, this was up from 8.6% three years earlier.

Bus operators, it should be noted, are already taking active steps to recruit more women, including by launching recruitment drives aimed specifically at them. Go Ahead, for example, aims to increase female representation to 15% by 2025, including not just frontline jobs such as drivers, but in management roles as well; currently, 21% of the firm’s apprentices are women.

ED&I is a legal requirement for all employers but, moreover, it’s a moral duty as well. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities regardless of their personal background.

As with public transport in general, the bus industry has a particular responsibility to promote greater diversity in its employment practices. After all, it can hardly understand and properly address the needs of the public, in all its diversity, unless it is prepared to embrace diversity itself.

 

The importance of leading by example

Another important point to make with regard to ED&I is that it can help to create a virtuous circle: by recruiting people from more diverse backgrounds, this in turn draws more applicants from such backgrounds into the industry, because this provides tangible proof that it offers a welcoming and inclusive place in which to work.

It’s crucial to remember that ED&I must not be a matter of merely ticking a certain box. Creating a diverse workforce is vital to ensuring that the needs of passengers who might otherwise be overlooked are better understood and addressed.

At Intuitive, our commitment to ED&I is central to everything we do. We connect diverse, talented leaders with forward-thinking employers in the transport sector.

If you’re an employer in the transport sector looking for your next hire, or if you think you could be a great fit for an executive-level role in transport, get in touch with us today and find out how we can help you.

WE would love to get to know you!

Please do give us a call, drop us a message or follow us on Twitter & Linkedin!

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