Momentum: Issue #67

March 15, 2021

The XX Factor in Transportation

by Laura Chace, ITS America; Allie Kelly, The Ray; and Laura, Allie Kelly, and Sara Stickler, WTS

As we mark Women’s History Month and consider our progress, women haven’t fared so well in transportation. Every day, we consider all sorts of questions to determine how we will get where we need to go, safely and on time.

Do you think about what to wear to ride the bus? Some women in Los Angeles reported wearing sneakers on the bus or train in case they had to run from an assailant.3

Do you think about your safety getting into a car? Many women consider that vehicle safety features are designed around the standard male, increasing female risk of serious injury in a frontal crash by 73%.

Do you think about how picking up a child or carrying packages might make it harder to take the bus? Women’s roles as the primary care giver and the person making grocery runs literally limit mobility options.

Transportation is woven through all facets of our lives – it is at the forefront of innovation and is a critical underpinning to achieving the American dream. Access to transportation is directly linked to economic opportunity; and yet, women are at a considerable disadvantage.

  • Women spend more on transportation than men as they balance work, home, and family trips
  • Women’s safety concerns reduce their transportation options
  • Women’s economic opportunities are reduced because of inequities in transportation

These inequities are amplified by the lack of women in transportation in executive and decision-making roles, comprising less than 15% of a 14.8 million transportation workforce5. At the CEO level, women in transportation are far below the industry average.

Does having more women in transportation really matter? Designing and maintaining a road or a transit system should be about engineering, not about gender norms or experiences.

Simply put, transportation design and mobility services and end users suffer when a homogeneous slate of planners and engineers do not consider or understand different needs.

In Karlskoga, Sweden, a gender equality initiative required that towns evaluate their policies and programs through a gender lens. What was flagged? Snow plowing. To everyone’s (including the men who planned it) surprise, clearing roads before sidewalks disproportionately impacted women. Women tend to walk whereas men tend to drive. The type of trip, walking with children or a stroller or carrying groceries, also added to higher risk of injury. Swapping the order addressed that gender impact.

A transportation system that works for everyone can only be created by a diverse range of voices, which includes not only women but specifically women of different races, ethnicities, ages, religions, socio-economic status, abilities, and gender identities. Research also suggests clear links between female leadership, broader focus on corporate social responsibility, and more equitable outcomes. One review showed that women in leadership positions in governmental organizations implement different policies than men and that these policies are more supportive of women and children6.

Empowering women to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies will result in better transportation for women and others disadvantaged by the system. But the pipeline is critical.

This is why the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, The Ray, and WTS Foundation, in coordination with other partners in the transportation industry, have joined forces to form MobilityXX, a movement that will mobilize thousands of members as well as key private and public sector transportation entities to highlight inequities in transportation and the critical role of women’s leadership. 

MobilityXX, which will address women’s power and influence at all levels, fast tracking women as the leaders, planners, doers, and innovators through training, advocacy, and projects, will also serve as a call to action for the industry.

“If women have a super power, it’s building – consensus, coalitions and non-ego driven discussions that create solutions,” said MobilityXX Steering Committee member and General Manager of the Los Angeles
Transportation Department Seleta Reynolds. “It’s time we bring together a diverse coalition of academics, planners and engineers, social workers, teachers and others, to lift up the lived experiences of women to achieve our goals of creating a level playing field and mobility for all.”

Changing a massive institution like transportation, with long-standing policies, practices, and infrastructure literally built to last, will not be easy. It is long past time to raise awareness of these inequities. It is time to dismantle the barriers women face as we strive to participate in this economy, raise our families, and simply wish to take a ride that doesn’t call to question our safety. The next time we share our mobility stories, they shouldn’t be of running shoes and juggling caring trips; they should be of easily getting where we need to go, safely and on time.