By Sina Zhen, Sustainable Mobility Junior Officer, ICLEI
By Sina Zhen, Sustainable Mobility Junior Officer, ICLEI
If we look around our urban surroundings, it becomes clear that every city in the world was designed and built by men for men including our transportation infrastructure. Men and women have different travel patterns and needs, and because of this, their perceptions of space and wayfinding are radically different. Hence, it is important to understand women’s travel needs in order to bridge the mobility gap in gender inclusivity. In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we are kicking off a bi-weekly blog series to bring attention to women’s needs in urban mobility and discussing how women use different modes of transport. This week, we are focusing on women and public transportation.
Women’s travel habits are more diverse
Women have different needs and behaviors when it comes to transportation and mobility. Whereas men’s travel patterns are fairly easy to predict, women’s are more complex due to the social roles ascribed to women. Faced with historically heavier household responsibilities, women tend to take jobs closer to home and work less hours and/or work irregular hours, often in lower-paid industries. On average, men are willing to accept a 14% longer commute than women.
Statistically, women are also more likely to trip-chain, where they engage in multi-purpose and multi-stop trips along their journey, likely due to household obligations such as childcare, assisting elder family members, and making grocery stops. The difference is significantly higher among women who have young children. Having a young child in the house increases women’s trips by 23% as women are three times more likely than men to take children to school and 80% more likely to trip chain. Data from the Transport Secretary for the city of Buenos Aires suggests that women’s mobility patterns are more diverse than men’s. For example, more than two-thirds of trips made by men are for work, compared to only one-half of trips made by women. Almost one-third of trips made by women are for household chores while only one-eighth of men’s trips are related to household responsibilities. With the demands on their daily lives, women, on average, value the benefit of a shorter commute and the ability to retain a flexible schedule more than men.
Women are the majority of public transport users worldwide, yet their inputs are not considered
Globally, women constitute the majority of public transport users. In France, for instance, two-thirds of passengers on public transport networks are women. The latest data from the American Community Survey (ACS) of the United States Census concludes that women are more likely to ride public transportation to work than men, whereas men are more likely to drive to work. In the United States, 55% of mass transit riders are women. This might not seem like a significant difference; however, it is noteworthy when considering the workforce overall – 53% male and 47% female. Yet as with other forms of mobility, safety concerns disproportionately affect women using public transit.
A large part of this is that the basic infrastructure for mass transit was laid down at a time when much of life was conducted locally, with journeys being commuting to work. With the rise of longer-distance commutes, zoning restrictions in suburbs, and the changes in the roles of women in society, transit planning has struggled to keep up and to adapt infrastructure. In many countries, public transit is the only option for many women, even if routes are not convenient for their commutes and off-peak service is not ideal for errands and safety.
The problem with public transit design is that it does not take gender-specific needs into account. For example, bus straps are difficult to reach for many women as they were designed to accommodate an on-average taller male body. In subways, trying to get on and off in a timely manner with small children or a stroller is challenging.
Infrastructural change can help to make transit safer. Vienna is a prime example of changing infrastructure to meet the needs of women users. A simple survey conducted in 1999 asked residents about their public transit usage. Men’s typical routes were short and simple: often to and from work. However, women’s transportation usage was more complex and varied, usually including multiple trips a day on the metro as well as on foot, transporting children and aging family members, and carrying bags of groceries in public transit. City planners realized that men and women have different needs and uses for public transit systems due to their historically different roles in society. Consequently, the city prioritized women’s needs in transportation projects by widening sidewalks, adding ramps for strollers, and improving lighting for safety.
Safety and security are the primary factors influencing women’s mobility preferences. Women in many cities regularly pay more to use taxis and ride-hailing services in order to avoid harassment on public transportation. A study conducted by the Transport Gender Lab of IDB on mobility patterns and obstacles in access to public transport for women in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area (AMG) found that 50% of the female users have been victims of some kind of aggression. According to the New York Times, women are the predominant victims of New York subway-based crimes, specifically robbery, forcible touching (340 cases reported in 2015), public lewdness (223 cases), and sexual abuse (130 cases). These issues are intensified by the fact that women tend to travel at atypical commuting hours, as they dominate fields like healthcare, retail, and education, which often do not comply with the traditional 9-to-5 workday. On the other hand, highly crowded trains during peak hours correlate with more sexual violence scenarios. Crowding isn’t just a comfort issue; it’s also a safety issue. Women have indicated avoiding busses at certain times due to being followed on public transit. The same study by the Transport Gender Lab found that 31% of users modified their transfers and routines for safety.
Affordability is another factor to look at with a gender lens. With women’s trip-chaining and often having to travel with someone under their care, the costs add up and combined with women already making less income than men, the disparity is concerning.
Now what? What can transit authorities do to emphasize a gender-neutral transit system for women?
Transit professionals can change this narrative by utilizing data to make infrastructure, schedule, and pricing structure changes to better accommodate female transit users. A transit system that is not set up for the success, safety, and true benefit of all users can not truly be considered successful. Below are a few recommendations for transit authorities to consider:
Public transit has been both the backbone for and a hurdle to women’s essential needs. Times are shifting and with more and more women entering the workforce while simultaneously balancing care duties, a well-designed public transport network that addresses accessibility, availability and affordability for women will improve women’s safety, movement and access to career and social opportunities.
Delatte, A., & Gonzalez, D. (2018). Advancing safe and secure public transport for women. Women’s Safety and Security: A Public Transport Priority, 16–17
Fitzsimmons, E. G. (2016). Renewed Efforts to Stop Subway Sex Crimes. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/nyregion/subway-sex-crimes-increase-as-police-urge-women-to-come-forward.html
Gonzalez Carvajal, K. (2018). Transport is not gender-neutral. World Bank Blogs. https://blogs.worldbank.org/transport/transport-not-gender-neutral
Khanna, M. (2020). Mind the Gender Gap. American Planning Association, February. https://www.planning.org/planning/2020/feb/mind-the-gender-gap/
Le Barbanchon, T., Rathelot, R., & Roulet, A. (2019). Gender Differences in Job Search: Trading off Commute Against Wage. In Working Paper
Parker, K. (2018). Women in majority-male workplaces report higher rates of gender discrimination. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/07/women-in-majority-male-workplaces-report-higher-rates-of-gender-discrimination/
Saunders, K. (2019). The Real Reason Why Mobility is Not Women-Friendly. Urban Mobility Daily. https://urbanmobilitydaily.com/the-real-reason-why-mobility-is-not-women-friendly/
Silva Rodriguez, M. (2020). Tracing mobility patterns and obstacles in access to public transport for women in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area. https://blogs.iadb.org/transporte/es/trazando-los-patrones-de-movilidad-y-obstaculos-en-el-acceso-al-transporte-publico-de-las-mujeres-en-el-area-metropolitana-de-guadalajara/