Interested in collaborating with us to host a workshop? To advance the world’s understanding on inclusive transportation or discuss potential opportunities, please reach out to Holly Hixson.
Researchers and urban experts around the world agree:
transportation is not gender-neutral.
Transport options do not respond to the fact that women move differently. Current planning and design of mobility generally support the typical commute of a worker, while not taking into account the social, economic, recreational, and familial responsibilities that often result in differing travel patterns for women. Past research has found that women tend to make more transit trips per day and spend more money on transport than men, and are particularly affected by issues of safety, reliability, and access.
As part of CoMotion LA, an annual global conference on new mobility, NewCities gathered professionals from the transportation industry to dive into gender inclusive transport. Our key goals were to explore barriers to mobility that exist for women, ideate possible solutions to address these barriers in practice, and contemplate how collaboration among sectors and stakeholders can contribute to a more inclusive transport system at large.
We were delighted to be joined by a well rounded group of twenty practitioners from all sectors, from transportation planners to public transit and micro mobility operators. In order to create a safe and proactive space for discussion among participants from different backgrounds and experiences, we agreed upon a few key “engagement rules.” Namely, making space for balanced participation among attendees and facilitators, encouraging a diversity of opinions throughout discussions, and thinking outside of the box to brainstorm creative solutions that are not confined to the roles we currently work in.
To ensure the workshop activities were guided by evidence and building on current efforts, we invited experts in the subject who have started pursuing research and solutions that answer women’s transportation’s needs. We heard from Meghna Khanna, Project Manager of the Understanding How Women Travel project and Gender Action Plan at LA Metro; and Laura Chace, President and CEO of ITS America, and founding member of the Mobility XX initiative.
We hosted two activities, Travel Journey Personas and Multi-Sectoral Solutions Mapping. The first activity invited participants to discuss the key challenges that are unique to the mobility of women. Each group was assigned a profile of a woman who faces particular challenges while navigating her daily transit trips and brainstormed the potential needs, fears, motivations, and frustrations she might encounter along her journey. During the second activity, participants dove deeper into one of the challenges, ideating on how the transport system could better support the movement, needs, and desires of this person. During this phase, we adopted a multi-sectoral focus, contemplating different solutions that could come from the private, public, non-profit, and academic sectors.
Throughout these discussions, a few key insights into how to better support gender inclusive transport emerged. These insights serve as a starting point for understanding the scope of the problem, but require deeper conversations with women who experience the presented challenges to define solutions and a path forward.
“I loved how the team created different personas and that we could discuss how to improve transit for women with vulnerable stories.“– Workshop participant.
Improved Data = Improved Solutions
Within most of our transport systems, there is an overwhelming lack of information that specifically captures the experiences of women, making it difficult to remove barriers that they face while travelling. In 2019, LA Metro launched Understanding How Women Travel, a comprehensive data collection project and report to do exactly this: identify how programs, services, operations, and projects are experienced differently by women than men. They found that women make up the majority of their ridership (this share continues to grow), and that women have distinct travel patterns, being more likely to access transit outside of peak hours and taking more, shorter trips than men. The collection of this data also uncovered key safety, affordability, and comfortability concerns that are now being addressed through their Gender Action Plan.
Because many transport systems haven’t focused on collecting disaggregated data to study how women experience transport differently, we often operate on assumptions and call on aggregated data that does not paint the full picture to inform decisions. Within our group conversations, we discussed how centering the experiences of women involves collecting better data, namely, data that captures both perception (i.e., perception of safety, perceived accessibility, and level of comfort while traveling during the day and at night), and quantitative measures (i.e., transit frequency, number of stops or stations, and distance). It also involves meeting individuals where they are at, as some who may want to access transit have already been deterred by the barriers they have encountered, such as distrust of the system, lack of access to technology, language barriers, and so on.
In collecting more specific data, we can more accurately diagnose and understand problems, create solutions that will address them, and measure the impact of those solutions over time.
Enable Opportunity, Design for Convenience
Mobility is crucial because it connects us to the things we want and need in our lives, it unlocks opportunities for us to meet our daily needs, socialize, take care of others, and access work. Unfortunately, women lose more time and money when trying to access safe transportation options, and therefore suffer reduced economic opportunity. According to a 2018 study, The Pink Tax on Transportation, conducted by the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, women end up spending an average of $26-$50 more than men per month for safe transport options (such as using car share services versus taking the metro). To promote equitable access to transportation and the opportunity it affords, it becomes crucial to center women in the design of our mobility systems considering specific needs and challenges they face. Without the opportunity to travel safely and comfortably to address daily needs, individuals’ quality of life suffers greatly.
Our conversations also emphasized that access is greatly affected by convenience. For example, an individual may have access to a bus stop just a few blocks from their home which can take them to a train, however travelling with children or many belongings can be challenging or discouraging if the bus or train does not have additional space to accommodate. Further, it’s important for many to consider when they arrive at the bus stop if there is adequate shelter, shade, or a place to sit. For others, trip-chaining may be an efficient way to complete their errands in theory, but if the bus doesn’t reliably show up (and show up on time), it can dramatically change the journey, draining more time, mental energy, and cost than it should. If this happens frequently enough, a user may turn to a personal vehicle, or may not make the trip at all.
If we design for users who experience the most challenges while accessing transport, we can improve those conditions and make transport more comfortable, convenient, and accessible for all users. With the help of data that reflects the lived experience of all riders and potential riders, solutions that respond to those needs can be initiated in the places it makes most sense across the system. Some of these challenges can be addressed through improved design and infrastructure, others may require more customized solutions such as microtransit or accessible real-time trip planning tools for riders. On a macro level, mixed-zoning and increasing density in our cities can take pressure off the public transportation system, enabling more walking and trips by bicycle.
Safety is Multidimensional
What does safe transportation look like? How does this answer change based on who is being asked the question?
Safety and the perception of safety in transportation is a huge factor in women’s choice of mode while traveling, and often serves as a barrier to choosing public transport.
Safety concerns can center around an individual, her children, or even her belongings while traveling, and changing the real outcomes and the perception of safety for riders requires looking at it as a multidimensional issue. A survey conducted by the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation found that 75% of women indicated they have experienced harassment or theft on public transport, compared to 47% of the men polled. In their study, LA Metro found that women cite safety as a top concern with only 21% of women feeling safe accessing transit after dark, and only 13% feeling safe while waiting for transit after dark. At the same time, women spend more money on transportation in order to alleviate safety concerns, choosing ride-hailing services over public transport at night, for example.
We know that real and perceived safety on transport can be highly influenced by the design and maintenance of a space, however, engineering safety requires us to also think of the city as a system, a level above design. Planning for safety involves looking to the larger neighborhood to support and promote an inclusive, comfortable urban realm. Promoting mixed-use density in neighborhoods can impact feelings of safety in the public realm by increasing the number of “eyes on the street” as Jane Jacobs would say, or number of people present in the public realm throughout the day and after dark.
Through our discussions, some key infrastructure and design upgrades that could improve safety for women on transport were highlighted such as adequate lighting on streets and at stops, real-time bus tracking at stops to let riders know how long they will be waiting, bus stop flexibility at night to reduce walking time to destination, and increased presence of transit employees on metros and at stations. Promoting and improving the safety of women on transport should be a top priority for all cities, and will make transit a safer and more comfortable option for all users.
As a first step, it involves gathering first hand insights from the communities that transit operates in, then requires leveraging policy, design, maintenance, and programs to address concerns and improve the material conditions that lead to safety on transport.
Diversify and Collaborate for Inclusion
The provision of transportation is highly dependent on stakeholders from all sectors. In one single journey, a rider’s transportation experience has almost certainly been shaped by a combination of public, private, non-profit, and academic forces.
Now, more than ever, companies, municipalities, institutions, and organizations should collaborate in order to leverage their resources, knowledge, and strengths to improve our transport systems.
The importance of these collaborations as a means of creating more inclusive transport, was a key discussion point, particularly in the second activity, as each group ideated on how different stakeholders could provide solutions: first, to understand usage patterns, and secondly to alleviate identified challenges from the micro to macro scale.
Throughout our discussions, common themes emerged that highlight specific roles that each sector can play to provide more options, accessibility, and mobility to residents. The academic sector may be best suited to identify and research place-specific challenges faced by women in transportation. The non-profit sector can ensure that meaningful engagement processes bring together people with lived experience to ensure the right voices are part of the decision-making and design process. The non-profit sector also has a unique opportunity to connect with their local communities to provide resources (such as trip training, translated materials, etc.) that will connect women and equity-seeking individuals with the transport system more seamlessly and comfortably. Responding to and incorporating this research and engagement into their work, the public sector has the ability to make an immense impact through policies which prioritize public good and inclusion in public transportation systems at large. At the same time, public sector actors have immense opportunity in collaborating with the private sector to develop innovative solutions and supplemental services that fill in comfort and convenience gaps.
While utilizing a combination of bottom-up engagement with communities, and top-down strategies that respond to users’ needs, there is a key opportunity for the transportation sector at large to diversify and increase the number of women with decision-making power. As it stands, women make up only 15% of the US transportation workforce. Improving upon this is a core commitment that guides the work of Mobility XX in pursuing a 10% increase in the share of women in the sector over the next ten years; increased diversity leads to improved decision making and returns on equity, productivity, and innovation.
Safe, reliable, accessible mobility is essential to ensure all people can access the resources and opportunities a city has to offer. To create more equitable systems, we should continue to pursue collaboration among sectors and disciplines, while holding space for those who are most vulnerable to past and present socio-political factors that affect transport, housing, and access. Collectively, we must advocate for gender-differentiated data and research exploring the experiences of women in transport to tell a more complete story of our ridership. And we must prioritize policies, programs, and designs that will make transport more comfortable, accessible, and safe for women, and all users.
 Within this text, when we refer to “women,” we are referring to individuals who identify or are perceived as women, and acknowledge that they can face several levels of oppression based on age, citizenship, income, race, ability, perceived gender and more.
 LA Metro, “Understanding How Women Travel”, 2019, http://libraryarchives.metro.net/DB_Attachments/2019-0294/UnderstandingHowWomenTravel_FullReport_FINAL.pdf
 Sarah M. Kaufman, Christopher Polack, and Gloria Campbell, “The Pink Tax on Transportation: Women’s Challenges in Mobility”, The NYU Rudin Center for Transportation, 2018, https://wagner.nyu.edu/files/faculty/publications/Pink%20Tax%20Survey%20Results_draft6.pdf
 Kaufman, Polack, and Campbell, “The Pink Tax on Transportation”
 LA Metro, “Understanding How Women Travel”
 Kaufman, Polack, and Campbell, “The Pink Tax on Transportation”
We hope to build upon this format in future iterations and acknowledge that a more comprehensive approach would include testimony and experiences of women facing challenges on transport to ensure lived experience is leading the decision-making process.