Gender biases in transit planning

By Saumya Jain

“The default human that is the basis for research and design projects is usually a white adult male.”

Despite efforts to close the gender gap in many aspects of life, there are still some industries and activities where the gap hasn’t even been identified properly. One such example is mobility and public transportation. The idea that men and women have different travel behaviors is not new, but has not been given the attention it deserves. In a recent study, LA Metro staff surveyed 2,600 county residents, oversampling women, to understand trends in gender-based travel patterns. The staff found that the metro system does not serve men and women equally and the latter are always disproportionately burdened by costs and safety risks.

The study found that despite the fact that women used transit more than men, overall route management, staff services, station and transit design, and other aspects of transit cater to the travel needs of men. The staff observed that women’s travel patterns hit a peak during midday, when the transit service drops off. Stations and transit vehicles are difficult to navigate with children, a task that falls disproportionately to women. They also observed that women living below the poverty line pay more for their day-to-day travel needs than men and affluent women. Safety in transit and around stations was another big concern voiced by the women and non-binary respondents.

A recent Swedish study highlighted how changing the snowplowing routines in one city enabled women to travel more easily. The city focused snowplowing away from just cleaning vehicular streets to plowing sidewalks and local roads, which were found to be used more by women. The study observed a dramatic drop in emergency room admissions for women and a corresponding economic impact due to lower healthcare costs.

Both the above examples from Sweden and Los Angeles highlight the need for closing the gender gap in the public services industry, as well. The LA report shows that identifying these biases is not difficult. The solution might not always be as easy as changing snowplowing assignments, but it can be a start toward something bigger. The LA metro is pressing for a detailed Gender Action Plan to address these biases and we’re excited to see what changes they propose.

Saumya Jain is a Senior Associate at SSTI.