Since December 2012, there has been increased attention to women’s experience of public transport. While the demand to make public transport safer for women is rightly emphasized, there is a need for a holistic approach to “engender public transport” i.e. making men and women’s concerns an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation (UNESCO 1997) of public transport. Drawing from various research studies in India and globally, this article highlights the differences in men and women’s travel patterns, met and unmet needs in bus-based public transport and suggests key areas of intervention.
Why gender in sustainable urban transport?
According to the UNDP, six out of ten of the world’s poorest people are women and this has marginally changed since 1995, when women constituted 70% of the poor (UNDP 2014). However, urban development is assumed to be gender neutral i.e. providing equal access to men and women, which does not acknowledge that physical infrastructure projects (roads, transport services etc) may have dissimilar and unequal impacts on the two groups (Khosla 2009).
Gendered differences in travel patterns
The predominant mode of travel for low-income women in developing countries is walking. In a study conducted by Srinivasa (2008) among low-income populations in Chennai, the percentage of poor women walking was quite more than that of men. Even when there was a lack of bicycle facilities in Chennai, bicycling rates for men were eight percent compared to one percent for women. Similarly in Sanjay camp in Delhi, it was observed that nearly twice the number of women walked to work as compared to men. Though 21% people used bicycles, out of which two percent women constituted pillion riders (Anand and Tiwari 2006). The difference in cycle use is largely explained by women’s higher concern for safer riding environments and their inferior access to personal means of transport. Women’s limited access to basic carts or load-carrying bicycles, results in frequent strain injuries, neck and back pain due to excessive head loading (Deike 2013). Further socio-cultural perceptions such as women’s dressing or being perceived as a “madam” also tend to constrain women’s choice of cycling as was observed in Pune (Parisar and University of Pune 2009).
While bus transport modal shares vary from 25% in Mumbai to 37% in Bhopal (DIMTS 2012), women are more dependent on public transport than men, especially when they are from lower-income groups. In Mumbai, it was observed that women made 45 % more trips by bus than train, which increased to 67% for households with incomes less than `5000 per month. Unfortunately, the off-peak and peripheral public transit routes on which many women depend for their travel to shopping or social facilities have much less priority than the radial commuter corridors going straight to the city centre. In many Indian cities like Bhopal, informal systems carry more passengers (20%) than the formal public transport system. Due to the unregulated nature of this sector, it is characterized by affordable but poor quality of vehicles, unverified drivers and conductors, unpredictable schedules and a lack of accountability.
Women’s travel is characterized by trip chaining i.e. combining multiple destinations within one trip. For example, they might travel to and from work, but on the way go to the market, pick up or drop off children to school etc. This also often makes it much more costly for women to get around, since they may have to pay numerous single fare tickets during such a chained trip.
Since women are overrepresented as informal workers, their destinations may not be concentrated in the Central Business District or in one or two¬ main areas, but dispersed (GTZ 2007). In Vishakapatnam, it was observed that while 39% of all trips were for work, only 11% of women’s trips versus 62.7% of men’s trips were for work. In fact, half of the women’s trips were for religious purposes.
A study of a low-income settlement in Delhi showed a gender dimension to the shelter-transport-livelihood link i.e. women are much more affected than men with respect to access to employment, education or basic services when these amenities are located far away from their residences. For example, relocation of squatter settlements to the periphery of Delhi led to an increase in female unemployment by 27% compared to just five % for men.