Inertia is the enemy of gender-neutral transport

01 December 2021

by Sarah Wray

More and better data is part of the solution to making transport systems more inclusive for women and other groups, but it’s time to turn ideas into action. It will require a new imagination, tough conversations and some directed anger, according to experts in a recent Women in Mobility UK network webinar hosted by Today’s cities.

The good news is that new tools and examples are emerging.

Hannah Bougdah, head of statistics dissemination and development at the UK Department for Transport, shared an overview of the National Travel Survey, which monitors long-term trends in England. In 2020, women traveled four percent more trips than men, but drove 22 percent fewer kilometers. A similar pattern was observed in 2019, before COVID-19.

Women made 22 percent more trips on foot than men and slightly less trips by car, but men cycled 110 percent more than women. Women make more shopping trips which tend to be relatively short, while men make longer commutes and business trips. In 2019, before home schooling began in the event of a pandemic, women took a higher proportion of study trips than men.

“The first step we have taken is to get this data and evidence and put it in the right place. The next step is probably to think about how we can improve the policies, ”Bougdah said.

Ask why?

Dr Laila AitBihiOuali, Assistant Professor, Transport Research Group, University of Southampton, stressed the importance of collecting data not only on how women travel, but also on why they make their choices, to help transport operators understand what they can do to improve services.

AitBihiOuali’s research, based on customer satisfaction data from 28 cities around the world, found a gender gap in perceptions of personal safety and security, with women being 10% more likely that men feel in danger on the subways and 6% for the buses. Research also found that women were generally less satisfied with services than men, although satisfaction levels increase dramatically when there are more staff at stations and on trains.

“[This] shows that there is also an incentive for transport providers to try and tackle this, but a lot of them don’t necessarily collect this information in the first place, ”AitBihiOuali said.

Separate research from AitBihiOuali and colleagues also found that women were 2.5% more likely to report feeling unsafe on public transport after the #MeToo controversy highlighted women’s experiences of harassment.

AitBihiOuali urged transport operators to regularly collect satisfaction survey data disaggregated by sex.

“Frequency is key in trying to track and measure performance and improve the women’s transport experience. Quantification is always more compelling, because what gets measured can be done.

Use your imagination

Kelly Saunders, a gender and mobility strategist with experience in senior legal and commercial positions within the SNCF Group in Europe and Australia and public policy for the Victorian government, also called for the incorporation of information unrelated to the transport, including health and ethnographic data.

But she stressed that we need to turn data into collective action. Research since the 1980s has consistently shown that women move differently from men and that this is often due to safety concerns and caregiving roles.

“We are seeing a real trivialization,” Saunders said, noting that while there is growing interest from transport operators and cities, there is still a lot of “inertia” when it comes to implementing artwork.

This is in part due to the difficulty of imagining things differently, which is central to his doctoral and advisory work.

“I help people imagine what this future transport system looks like, what it looks like, what it really looks like,” she said. “It is designing for joy, designing for extremely human embodied things that are forgotten in our thinking about transport.”

She gave the example of installing smaller toilets for children in transport nodes.

“I can’t tell you the difference when you’re designed for,” Saunders said. “And I feel like it’s a huge underestimation in the way we design transportation networks.”

When women have complex mobility needs or safety concerns, this can cause them to spend more on transport, change their behavior, or avoid some trips altogether.

“I think we should actually be pretty angry about it and… bring that anger into our work,” Saunders commented, noting that as a young transport professional she had been reluctant to tip the boat.

“I really separated my feminism from my work. We have to mix them up; we have to bring them to one place by finding other people – that collective power. “

Sandra Witzel, Co-Founder of Women in Mobility UK and Director of Marketing and Director of the Board of SkedGo, who moderated the event, added: “We have to keep talking about it and asking questions because quite often , when we look at our own work, it may not be entirely clear where the gender aspects [fit in]… We are still working through it.

“But I also think I’m not afraid to ask these uncomfortable questions and ask them in business meetings and discuss them. It is also very important, even when you are not quite sure about the solution.

Tools for change

Practical tools are being developed to stimulate and enable change.

Transportation planner Laura Brooks co-created the Gender Equality in Transportation (Get It) Toolkit, to help industry professionals understand how the decisions they make impact mobility of women and encourage them to be gender sensitive.

Disaggregated data is one of the eight areas of focus, alongside education and awareness, industry empowerment, inclusive design, monitoring and evaluation, creation change, progressive policies, engagement and consultation.

“The purpose of the toolkit is to help challenge assumptions and any subconscious bias you may have,” Brooks said.

She cited examples, including that of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. To change of way study, Transport for London’s Understanding our diverse communities research and that of Sydney On the move: how women get around our city report.

The YourGround project interviewed women and people of various genders in Victoria, Australia about their perceptions of safety in public spaces and enabled them to anonymously geotag locations.

Four new TramLab toolkits, developed through a partnership between the Government of Victoria and three universities, cover gender-sensitive communication campaigns, setting up venues, collecting gender-sensitive data and training service providers and security personnel.

The next step, according to Saunders, is to move from raising awareness to implementing projects and evaluating their impact.

She said the process of gender mainstreaming means asking, “Does every decision we make in the transport network work for men and women?” And does it work for people of various genders as well?

Replay the webinar now.

Image: Leonovo |

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