Why women need a bigger say about future mobility

7th Sept 2023

The mobility landscape is changing – and those changes need to incorporate the views of women, who have traditionally been badly served by the sector. Sandra Witzel from campaigning group Women in Mobility UK makes the case for greater focus on the needs of women travellers

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By Sandra Witzel, CMO and board director at SkedGo and Accessible Mobility Advocate at Women in Mobility

Women have different transport requirements to men, because of some of the societal structures that are still in place. For example, women still do most of the unpaid care work, often juggling it with paid work, which means their travel patterns are different to men’s. They are also more likely to work part-time, so they’re poorer and have less access to certain resources.

Women also have a higher need for safer transport because of the dangers to their physical safety from harassment and assault. Because women have these specific needs of accompanying people looking after their personal safety, they often pay more for these different transport choices, perhaps taking a taxi instead of a late train or bus, because they don't feel safe at the bus stop.

New mobility services, same old story

New mobility services come with similar challenges. If you look at e-scooters, for example, the uptake from female riders is low compared to male riders. If you’re accompanying a child or elderly relative, you can't use a scooter, plus there’s nowhere to place your handbag or shopping bags and they are hard to use when wearing heels. For the more complex trip chaining that women tend to use they often don’t work. For example, if you need to stop by a grocery store on the way home, what do you do with your scooter and will it still be there when you come out?

Thankfully, there's been a lot of awareness raising in recent years and a lot more of gender-specific data is being collected and analysed. Other places around the world offer best practice case studies, such as Vienna. It’s a great city for female travellers, because they've been integrating gender considerations into their transport systems and into their whole urban planning systems for at least a decade. Austria’s capital has a gender mainstreaming department that looks at public spaces and transport, and integrates all these thoughts, ideas and data points into new developments.

Increasing awareness

We might not have gender mainstreaming departments in the UK, but there is increasing awareness on how policies need to reflect broader user groups. The Department for Transport just published a code of practice for Mobility as a Service (MaaS), for example, that looks at accessibility in more detail. This doesn't just help disabled people: it also helps women (and parents in general) because when you travel with a small child or an elderly relative, you need transport systems to be accessible and affordable.

We do now have more women in decision-making positions, although in the transport sector, women still only make up around 20% of the workforce. We need to improve this, bring in more female perspectives and provide more female-friendly workplaces. Let’s not forget that transport is not just about the planners and technology providers: it's also the operators, bus drivers and train drivers, which are overwhelmingly male-dominated workforces.

A good example of where we need more female input is the emerging technology of autonomous vehicles. I wouldn't want to get in an autonomous shuttle at night when there are no staff: I wouldn’t feel safe. This is part of our transport future and we need to do better finding solutions for new mobility modes that are inclusive and safe for all user groups.

In short, we need to get more women involved in making the decisions, drawing up policies and designs and considering the voices of the people who are not in the room. Let’s bring them in the room - through focus groups, for example - and make the transport ecosystem a better place for everybody.

Sandra Witzel was in conversation with Craig Thomas

>>> Discuss the role of women in mobility at CIHT Connect
Sandra Witzel
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