by Alexandre Gauquelin, Founder, Shared-Micromobility – 2 Jan. 2020
The Gender Gap in Shared Micromobility
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.
With both bicycles and e-scooters, the majority of users are male. If we focus on bike-share, the latest survey conducted by CoMoUK in 2019 shows the breakdown of users at 58% male / 40% female. This survey reaffirms the overall global trends in bicycle usage: in the US only 24% of the cyclists were women in 2009, with female cyclists at around 30% in the UK. The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are exceptions, with 56%, 55% and 50% of female riders respectively.
Another recent study on the use of “little vehicles” – bicycles, scooters, segways and skateboards – confirms that the same pattern applies to these light electric vehicles (LEVs) in the US. Men were twice as likely as women to report a trip using an LEV. This finding is consistent with other studies that show women’s rates of bicycle use are often lower 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 their riders’ gender share: Voi confessed a bad 70% male / 30% female, while Dott communicated a better 55% male / 45% female breakdown – 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 and most important factor behind these statistics is cultural. Women are – unfortunately – still bound by gendered societal expectations to manage activities such as housework and related errands, children’s schedules and transportation needs, grocery shopping, and other tasks that are more difficult to accomplish on a light 2-wheeled vehicle. On top of these expectations, there is often added pressure for women to maintain a certain standard of appearance, particularly in professional environments. This can make it difficult for women to be able to rely on more exercise-heavy modes of mobility.
Dutch Cycling Embassy@Cycling_Embassy“Wherever you go—whether Tripoli or Amsterdam—the same people live there with the same necessities and the same dreams. It’s really quite simple: I need to be able to buy my bread, I need to play with my kids, I need to go to work.”
The second major factor is that of safety. Women are more likely than men to say they want safer cycling. A stronger sense of safety can manifest itself in a variety of ways: building more and better cycling infrastructures, adapting traffic patterns so one can feel protected as a rider, increasing penalties for bad driving behavior.
What are the answers?
The most obvious solution is to direct our efforts on fighting the gender gap in society as a whole! This is, of course, easier said than done, requiring systemic change that brings together the difficult work of many different actors and specialists.
If we focus on shared micromobility, the first answer is not specific to shared services and relies on the initiative of authorities: protected cycling infrastructure must be built! Whatever LEVs are used, riders have to feel safe. Separated bike lanes, shared and pacified streets will help to ease the safety obstacle for women. This means private companies from the micromobility sector concerned by the gender gap should also launch investment programs in cycling infrastructure. Bird did it, giving $1/scooter/day to help authorities improve bike infrastructure. Unfortunately they stopped this program in January 2019, due to the fierce battle in the scooter world over market-share and profitability. Some cities also claim that the fee structure associated with their licensing regimes helps to further develop cycling infrastructure.
However, safety is not only about where you ride, but it is also about what you ride. Electrified vehicles allow a closure of the speed gap with other vehicles, therefore improving the feeling of safety. Then we can talk about form factor. E-scooters can be quite restrictive due to their small wheels and their difficult handling ability, which may be why we see the emergence of new form factors such as e-mopeds or light e-mopeds. Larger wheels and a hands/feet/seat contact design could be better suited for female riders.
Operators and manufacturers should also consider female-specific needs: better solutions for carrying cargo and children (hard for me to write as a man). The evolution from light vehicles – bicycles and scooters – to more sturdy options provides better capacity 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 that must occur is for all shared micromobility stakeholders to become aware of this gender gap and understand the need and potential to convert women to new shareable alternatives. Hiring women to use their creativity and gender-specific experiences to design products that accommodate female needs is one of the ways to change the male-dominated mobility industry. The private sector has to adopt a more gender-aware way of doing business to initiate a sustainable change and close the gender gap.