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Whose transport system is it anyway?


Joanna Ward considers the gender imbalances in transport planning and how the profession should refocus to ensure our transport infrastructure serves everyone.

In her 2019 book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado-Perez presents many examples of how we have built a transport system with an often-unnoted gender bias.

One such example Criado-Perez presents is from the Swedish town Karlskoga. In 2011, a gender-equality initiative across Sweden required municipalities to re-evaluate all their policies and activities through a gender lens.

A government official joked that at least snow clearing would likely be spared the scrutiny of the ‘gender people’. It was not: studies showed that the practice of clearing snow from roads before footpaths disproportionately affected women.

Women were more likely to walk, while men were more likely to drive. As a result, women’s mobility was not only more limited when the snow came, they were at greater risk of injury on the snow and ice.

Driving through three inches of snow is a lot easier than pushing a buggy, bike or wheelchair through it – so why were they ploughing for cars first? Once aware, the town switched to clear snow from pedestrian areas first. Changing the order of ploughing came at no extra cost and helped address a gender imbalance created every time snow fell.

This small Swedish town is an example of the gendered nature of transport planning and how it’s not always looked at from a rounded point of view.

“In most of the developed world we have prioritised the car for decades” 

In most of the developed world we have prioritised the car for decades and, in many societies, women are also less likely to have access to a car than a man. Even if households have a car, men tend to dominate access to it.

Women are more likely to use public transport; but public transport has often not been designed for anyone undertaking unpaid care work. Such work requires ‘chained trips’ – school run to work, work to school run to shops to home. That, in turn, makes it hard for anyone to complete their unpaid care work and so makes it much harder for them to engage in their paid work, and so on.

To realise the vision of an inclusive transport system we must refocus on how we plan and build for everyone. This spans from ensuring that a range of people with different experiences are engaged by public consultations, to calling out when meetings don’t have a positive gender balance and constantly asking: “Who is not in the room?”

Only by continuing to raise this issue will we start to see a transport system fit for the 21st century.

Joanna Ward is associate and transport lead at Elliott Wood

Image credit | iStock


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