ACCESS TO SAFE TRANSPORTATION
“Safe, affordable, accessible transportation systems are crucial for women to find and maintain employment, and to live independently and away from gender-based violence. Transportation and transit systems are a mechanism to prevent, respond to, and mitigate VAW/GBV, but are also a space where violence occurs.”
(Dale et al, 2021, as quoted in Yukon Women's Coalition, 2021)
The Yukon Status of Women Council has been advocating for safer, accessible transportation since its inception. It began with the creation of the Mini Bus Society in 1972, which offered a community-responsive transit system and women’s employment and skill development and has continued this type of advocacy since 2017, focusing on increasing safety in Yukon taxis. The issue of transportation is a well-known barrier to equity in the North, particularly as it relates to women’s safety. With an absence of safe, reliable public transportation between communities in the Yukon and with persistent allegations of taxi violence in the capital, people are left with few options for a safe ride. This gap creates vulnerability to homelessness, gender-based violence, and poverty. Access to safe transportation is recognized in several major reports as critical to the safety and well-being of Indigenous women and girls (i.e. the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG Final Report, 2019); the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS) Submissions to the National Inquiry into MMIWG (2018); the Government of Yukon’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit+ (MMIWG2S+) People Strategy (2020) and Putting People First Final Report (2020).
All Yukon communities are connected by road, except for Old Crow which is a fly-in community. The majority of Yukoners travel between communities by road, and many use ride-sharing as a form of transportation through informal networks, supported by social media or organizations, such as First Nations governments and non-governmental agencies. Whitehorse is the institutional, economic, and social hub of the territory and is where the majority of services are located. This means that many rural residents who live in one of 15 Yukon communities outside of the capital must travel regularly to the city for essential services, work, or social activities (Yukon’s Transportation Landscape, 2021).
Yukon’s transportation system presents many challenges, including:
Climate change presents challenges to infrastructure integrity, reliability of transportation routes, patterns of use, and the distribution of resources. Permafrost melt is one of the biggest threats to road transportation systems and shifting weather patterns make maintenance difficult (Government of Yukon, 2015).
Lack of ability to build, improve, and maintain transportation infrastructure due to a small tax jurisdiction and an economy heavily reliant on external market forces means we are dependent on federal support (Government of Yukon, 2015).
Communities are small in population and spread out across a large landmass (approx. 483,000 square kilometres) and require long travel times, which further challenges reliable and efficient transportation services (Government of Yukon, 2015).
Government of Yukon. Government of Yukon submission to the Canada Transportation Act Review Panel. 2015.
WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE YUKON?
Intracommunity Travel, Not a Two-Way Street
With most services centrally located in Whitehorse, many people must travel to Whitehorse for health, justice, social, food, and other services. Even if they are able to find the means to travel to Whitehorse, their return home may be hampered because of timing, availability, or capacity of transport options. Alternatively, many people living in Whitehorse have cultural and family connections in rural communities and may wish to travel for social, familial, or cultural visits, but are unable (Plonka, Yukon News, 2021).
The burden of transporting citizens from Whitehorse-based service centres tends to fall on First Nation governments, friends, and family, resulting in costly and often delayed services. Access to other funding sources may be limited due to same-day travel requirements after discharge and transboundary issues between the Yukon and British Columbia can result in Lower Post citizens being unable to access transport home from Whitehorse-based systems. These and many other contextual factors can mean people are trapped in Whitehorse and unable to return home. Many of whom are in vulnerable and fragile states having been discharged from health centres, mental health or substance use recovery programs, or a correctional facility, and may not have the means to navigate access to temporary lodgings (e.g.hotel) to wait for safe transportation home (Jones, 2020).
Taxi Safety an Issue in Whitehorse
After a young woman shared her experience of being sexually harassed in a taxi in Whitehorse on Yukon Helpers Network in 2020, over 100 people commented with their own experiences of taxi violence in Whitehorse. The Yukon Women’s Coalition, then launched a taxi survey to gather perspectives of riders and renew the focus on taxi safety reform. The majority (64%; or 107 out of 174) of survey respondents reported incidents of harassment, sexualized harassment/assault, and threats and/or coercion. Indigenous respondents reported a greater incidence of violence, harassment, or encounters that made them feel unsafe or targeted (Yukon Taxi Safety, 2021). Taxi violence is not a new issue and media reports of drivers assaulting women in Whitehorse date back to 2006, 2009, 2011, and 2015. Advocacy efforts for increased safety measures in our taxi system have been ongoing since 2016, led by the Yukon Women’s Coalition.
Respondents to a survey conducted by Yukon Bureau of Statistics on Whitehorse transportation options stated that more frequent buses (61.1%), safer bike lanes (59.5%), and more bike lanes (50.9%) were the biggest barriers to active transportation and public transportation when commuting.
Jones, J. Coordinated discharge planning for rural Yukon citizens. Interim report prepared for Safe at Home. 2020.
Yukon Bureau of Statistics. Whitehorse Transportation and Commuting Survey 2021 report. 2021.
Yukon Women’s Coalition. Taxi safety report. 2021.
Plonka, G. Multiple reports, survey decry lack of transportation between Yukon communities. Yukon News. 2021.
“When people lack transportation options, it severely limits their ability to participate in society and to access services, including health and social services.”
The Government of Yukon’s Putting People First report released in 2020 drew a direct connection between lack of transportation options and greater health inequities, indicating that it hinders low-income Yukoners’ ability to attend health appointments, participate in activities, and access/maintain successful employment. This may increase social isolation, put vulnerable populations at risk during medical travel, and increase inflows into homelessness.
The persistent problem of poor transportation in the Yukon is well documented. We don’t need more reports on the issue, but rather, concerted action is needed. Solutions will need to be collaborative: public transit drivers/users, taxi drivers/companies/users, Bylaw Services, RCMP, industry and private sector, municipalities, First Nations governments, and the Government of Yukon need to come together for substantive change.
As such, the Yukon Status of Women Council wishes to echo the calls to action already made in the National Inquiry into MMIWG Final Report (2019), by the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS) Submissions to the National Inquiry into MMIWG (2018) as well as Government of Yukon’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit+ (MMIWG2S+) People Strategy (2020) and Putting People First (2020) reports, among others.
CALLS TO ACTION
Safer and More Affordable Transportation Services/Infrastructure
More safe and affordable transportation services and infrastructure, such as “safe rides'' programs (MMIWG Final Report, 2019), especially for youth and Elders (LAWS, 2018), and transportation options to and between Yukon communities as a way to enhance community safety (Government of Yukon, 2020).
Transportation providers and industry must identify and respond to sexual exploitation and human trafficking, as well as the development and implementation of reporting policies and practices (MMIWG Final Report, 2019).
More Collaborative Funding Models
All levels of government should work together to leverage funding and provide cost-effective public transportation across the Yukon (Putting People First, 2020) and adequate plans and funding need to be put in place so safety and affordability are prioritized for Indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S+ people living in remote or rural communities (MMIWG Final Report, 2019).
Improved Discharge Planning
Better discharge planning for rural Yukoners can be achieved through coordinated and supported transportation services between Whitehorse and communities. This should include a reliable, dedicated medical travel system between Whitehorse and rural communities for residents who require non-emergency care (CBC, 2020); travel funding built into discharge plans; and mandatory training for transport staff and personnel who serve clients with trauma, violence, and complex health issues (Jones, 2020).
Prioritizing Taxi Safety
Recommendations from the Taxi Safety Report include, but are not limited to: - greater enforcement of taxi driver compliance, such as increased random spot checks and use of new technologies (i.e., tamperproof cameras, audio recordings, panic buttons, GPS); - incentivized informal reporting capacities and responsive formal reporting; - promotion of accountability through annual public report cards; - paid, mandatory Violence Against Women and cultural sensitivity training for drivers; - implementation of MMIWG Calls for Justice and the National Action Plan to End Gender-based Violence relating to transportation; and - amendment of the Vehicle for Hire Bylaw so that taxi companies must sign on to service standards and are aware of how they will be held accountable for incidences of taxi violence, mandating that cameras function similar to those in city buses and that recordings are sent directly to the City following each drivers’ shift.
For full list of recommendations, please go to pages 32-39 in Taxi Safety Report.