As women’s mobility choices are influenced by a broad range of factors and differ by country, these parallels should only be interpreted as correlational. Still, women’s perception of security influences how often and when they use public transit or walk. Their greater exposure to harassment in public transport constrains their ability to commute as they like.
Care responsibilities and time poverty
In addition to security concerns, disproportionate care responsibilities in the home and a shortage of time can dissuade care givers (often women) from choosing greener forms of transit, according to several studies.
The latest annual Eurostat report on progress with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals within the European Union found that the share of women left out of the labour force due to care responsibilities was 21.7 percentage points higher than the share of men left out of the labour force for the same reason. Among people in part-time employment, 46.1% of women stated family responsibilities as the reason vs. 11.7% of men. The added burden of care responsibilities can cause a time poverty that results in women opting for cars over public transportation or other alternatives.
A study conducted on the use of free-floating car-sharing services illustrates how women’s more typical travel patterns constrain their ability to use such services. Missing child seats, long distances to the nearest vehicles and the challenge of transporting large items (such as a stroller or car seat) alongside children were identified among the barriers. Also, whereas men more often make trips from point A to point B, which is more convenient for car-sharing services, women are more likely to combine care duties such as grocery shopping, picking up children and completing other errands in one trip chain.
These care responsibility constraints apply also to public transit. On a trip with multiple stops, the passenger has to wait for public transport several times during the journey, adding to the travel time, especially if the travel systems are designed in a radial system from and to the city centre, while care trips are often between districts rather than into the city centre.
Urban mobility design is therefore not gender neutral. As women typically have more favourable attitudes towards green forms of transport such as cycling, walking and public transit, more deliberate measures can go a long way to ensure that people with care responsibilities (women or men) have the opportunity to choose these forms of transport.
Putting women at the centre
The success of sustainable transport plans and mobility strategies depends on the recognition that women and men often have different travel needs. Putting women at the centre of the planning process can result in a win-win situation for everyone: more secure public transport systems (for all passengers), higher labour force participation and economic/fiscal returns, and a maximising of environmental benefits by decreasing the use of private vehicles.
Some European countries have already adopted deliberate measures to improve women’s security on public transport. These measures include ensuring last mile connectivity, removing vegetation near bus stops, eliminating dark access ways to bus stops, introducing women-only taxis, training transport professionals to intervene and manage situations of sexual harassment, and information campaigns for passengers.
Some governments have included gender-mainstreaming strategies into their national development plans. Possible measures to integrate gender considerations into transport policy include
integrating gender-based commuting habits into transit schedules, acknowledging travel hours and patterns, bus-stop proximity to key facilities (schools, daycare) and increasing flexibility of fare structures to acknowledge dependents and trips with multiple stops;
integrating gendered needs in transport design features, including having adequate space for prams and bicycles and non-barrier access (with transit facilities, design features should also recognise that women need more sanitary facilities than men);
implementing surrounding initiatives, such as reducing the need for multiple stops in one trip through e-commerce and delivery options.
Organisations interested in incorporating a gender-inclusive perspective into transport projects, plans and policies can learn more about the Gender Analysis Toolkit for Transport recently published by the International Transport Forum.
Climate change strategies require comprehensive solutions that simultaneously tackle a broader set of issues, taking into account various gender roles. For example, promoting programmes or policies that will allow care responsibilities to be shared more equally is likely to help women save time and to lead to an increase in the use of more environmentally friendly public transport solutions. Broader involvement of men in care and community-related initiatives may encourage them, too, to opt for more climate-friendly alternatives.
Contemporary sustainable cities must continue to broaden the range of available transport options, such as pedestrian zones, bicycle and e-scooter lanes, and “mobility as a service” solutions that pool several options under a single service provider. This can reduce the use of private cars and also take pressure off public transit. Mobility strategies that serve the needs of different demographics will be key to mobilising people to drive — or cycle — cities towards carbon neutrality.