South African cities are characterized by income segregation. Quantitative indicators of transport disadvantage show that in Cape Town, lower income households spend a disproportionate amount of time and money on travel relative to higher income households. Further, women, due to their roles as carers and household administrators, experience higher travel cost burdens relative to men. These quantitative indicators raise questions about the lived experience of transport disadvantage, and the sacrifices and trade-offs commuters are forced to make. In this study, a qualitative approach was employed to investigate the commute experiences of women who are low-income earners, as a means of supplementing existing quantitative data. The findings suggest that while trains present the most affordable mode of travel for respondents, the service is subject to disruptions, cancellations and sabotage which result in substantial, unexpected travel cost and travel time. This unexpected expenditure adversely impacts household money and time budgets, and respondents are forced to adjust these budgets to the detriment of their household consumption and activity participation. Furthermore, while commuting, the respondents all reported a fear of crime, witnessing criminal activity or being the victim of crime. It is concluded that the respondents’ transport disadvantage, together with their social disadvantage as women with low wages and low skills levels, interact to render them at risk of social exclusion. Given the observed impact of declining rail service on entrenching transport disadvantage, the most appropriate policy response to transport-related social exclusion in the city would be to improve the rail service as a matter of priority.
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