Historically, travel data has focused on employment trips. This is turn has given us transport policy designed to optimise travel to and from work, such as the commuter rail infrastructure between suburbs and employment centres. The problem is that commuting accounts for only 15% all trips.
On the whole, men have a simpler travel pattern with a lot more commuting in and out of town or city centres. In households that own a car, men dominate its use. In contrast, women generally have more complicated travel patterns, and are more likely to walk and use public transport. This means that they are disproportionately inconvenienced by obstructions (such as parked cars and vans) and poor maintenance (including failure to grit or clear in winter).
Women do 75% of the world’s unpaid care work, including escorting children to and from school, looking after parents, and shopping. To juggle their commitments, women regularly ‘trip-chain’, tying lots of little trips together: for example, dropping children off at school on the way to work, or going grocery shopping on the way home. Commuter-designed public transport caters poorly for these trips.
The frequent omission of short walks from travel surveys, or the recording of only the main mode of travel, leads to incomplete data. Incomplete data tells an incomplete story. Transport planning informed by that incomplete data is then biased – in this case against women.
How might we tackle this gender data gap? Firstly, we need to collect more complete and gender-disaggregated data on travel patterns. Secondly, we need to diversify the transport profession to be more representative of those it serves (only 22% of workers in the transportation sector are women) and be more alert to major data gaps. It’s particularly important to diversify senior management.
Thirdly, we need actively to engage women in the transport planning and policy process at all stages of design and development. Finally, we should conduct gender impact assessments of proposed transport projects.
The transport system is poorly designed for over half of the population – we need to change this.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 22 May 2019. Nicole Badstuber covers this topic in more depth in a piece published on London Reconnections.