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Queer people love the bus. I’m not sure how a love for cramming into the so called ‘loser cruiser’ with 40-odd strangers made it into queer culture, but somehow it did. The link between queer culture and public transport is so strong, it’s even made it into mainstream urbanist youth culture, with every second NUMTOT declaring themselves “gay for public transport”. But recent findings from MRCagney’s work looking at Equity in Auckland’s Transport System have made me question whether LGBTQI+ peoples’ love for the bus might be an unrequited affair.
To be queer is to challenge mainstream culture; is challenging car-dominance in our cities by riding the bus a reflection of this?
This is a rather romanticised view of why LGBTQI+ people might be more likely to use public transport. A more practical reason is the fact that queer people are more likely to have a low income, meaning public transport or walking are the most affordable ways to get around.
Despite the anecdotal evidence and cultural importance around public transport in queer culture, Equity in Auckland’s Transport System found that LGBTQI+ people have less access to transport than non-LGBTQI+ people. This is largely because LGBTQI+ people are more likely than non-LGBTQI+ people to have low incomes, meaning they can’t afford to run a car; live in transport-deprived areas, meaning public transport is inconvenient; and hold jobs outside of the typical ‘nine to five’, meaning they can’t take advantage of peak hour transport services. These factors mean many LGBTQI+ people are forced onto poor-quality public transport services or must run a car at great cost.
For many people, having to catch poor-quality public transport is an inconvenience – for LGBTQI+ people it can be incredibly dangerous. Low-frequency services leave LGBTQI+ people vulnerable to attack or harassment while waiting for transport. Poor public transport coverage can also put LGBTQI+ people at risk if they must walk a long distance at either end of their journey. Even if a LGBTQI+ person isn’t physically or verbally harassed, catching public transport can still be stressful. A stare or a glare can alter someone’s experience, especially if they have experienced queerphobia before:
Being stared at increased anxiety even if it is benign because stares sometimes lead to verbal or physical abuse and strangers’ intentions are not always clear. Thus, the study participants reported being on-edge often while on a train or bus, because they were trying to anticipate abuse or attack so that they could try to protect themselves. – Equity in Auckland’s Transport System, page 13
Using data from Counting Ourselves, produced by trans and non-binary people investigating the health and wellbeing of their own communities in Aotearoa, Equity in Auckland’s Transport System also found that limited access to any form of transport is negatively affecting the health of trans and non-binary Aucklanders. Of all respondents, 77% had ‘done without, or cut back on, trips to shops or other local places’ and over a quarter of people hasn’t visited a GP because they had no transport.
Knowledge of LGBTQI+ transport access and experience is still very limited, especially data relating to the Aotearoa context. What we do know is that the combination of being prone to harassment, feeling unsafe, having poor mental health, and less income affects LGBTIQI+ experiences of transport. We need to work with these communities to learn more about the barriers they face so we can address them.
Recommendations from the Equity Report specific to LGBTQI+ include:
Check out the full report here.