The gender gap in shared micromobility
17 December, 2019
Gender equity is a major goal to be achieved in every field of society, including mobility. It is now widely accepted that mobility (and therefore micromobility) is not gender-neutral and that authorities and companies choices have an impact on the travel patterns of women.
Either for bicycles or e-scooters, the majority of users is male. If we focus on bike-share, the latest survey conducted by CoMoUK in 2019 show the share: 58% male / 40% female. It is just a confirmation of the global bicycle usage: in the US only 24% of the cyclists were women in 2009, around 30% in the UK. Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are exceptions with respectively 56%, 55% and 50% of female riders.
A recent study on the use of “little vehicles” – bicycles, scooters, segways and skateboards – in the US confirms that the same pattern applies to light (electric) vehicles.
Men were twice as likely as women to report a trip using an LV. This finding is consistent with other studies that showing women’s rates of bicycle use are less than men’s, largely attributed to feeling less comfortable cycling in risky traffic environments.
During Autonomy & The Urban Mobility Summit in October 2019, some operators also shared figures on riders gender share: Voi confessed a bad 70% male / 30% female, while Dott displayed a better 55% male / 45% female – later denied by a study from 6T stating that the split for Dott is actually 75% male / 25% female.
A strong cultural factor
The first factor is cultural. Women are – sadly – still in charge of the housework, such as picking up the children at school, doing the grocery shopping, tasks that are more difficult to accomplish on a light 2-wheeler vehicle. And there is more pressure on women to arrive “fresh” at the office, making it more unacceptable to sweat.
The second major factor is safety. “Women are more likely than men to say they want safer cycling“. We can translate it in different ways: building more and better cycling infrastructures, adapting the traffic so you can feel safe as a rider
What are the answers ?
The first thing is to work on fighting gender gap in the whole society ! That’s a large topic, including social measures, education… I leave it under the specialists’ keyboards.
If we focus on shared micromobility, the first answer is not specific to shared services and relies on the hands of authorities: they have to build protected cycling infrastructure! Whatever LEV they use, riders have to feel safe. Separated bike lanes, shared and pacified streets will knock over the safety obstacle for women. Private companies from the micromobility sector concerned by the gender gap issue should launch investment programs in cycling infrastructure. Bird did it, giving US$1/scooter/day to help authorities improve bike infrastructure. They stopped in January 2019 in the fierce battle over market-share and profitability. Some cities also claim that the fee structure associated to their license regime helps the infrastructure development.
But safety is not only about where you ride, but it is also about what you ride. Electrified vehicles allow to close the speed gap with other vehicles, and therefore to improve the safety feeling. Then we can talk about form factor. E-scooters are quite restrictive due to their small wheels and their difficult handling ability, and this is maybe why we see the emergence of new form factors such as e-mopeds or light e-mopeds. Larger wheel, hands/feet/seat contact, could convince female riders.
Operators, manufacturers, should also consider women-specific needs: carrying cargo and children (hard for me to write it as a man). The evolution from light vehicles – bicycles and scooters – to sturdier ones provides more options to fit cargo and passenger features… but we are still far from being able to come back home with a child and 2 grocery bags on a shared e-bike.
A need for change
As gender equality strategist Kelly Saunders states, ” the new mobility sector led by financiers and tech companies, whilst focused on the key question of ‘last mile’ travel, is yet to directly engage on the subject [of gender equity]”.
The major change to expect is for all shared micromobility stakeholders to become aware of this gender gap, and understand the need and potential to convince women to adopt new shareable alternatives. Hiring women to use their creativity and innovation to design for-women products is one of the ways to change the male-dominated mobility industry. The private sector has to become aware of their impact on social justice to initiate a sustainable change and close the gender gap.