The DIAMOND project on bike-sharing services aimed to research women’s needs as users of bike-sharing services to increase the percentage of women using these services, as well as to support the development of policies for the management of bike-sharing fleets in a more gender-equitable way. The lessons learned from this and insights into female mobility patterns in Paris, are useful for others looking to make shared bike services more equitable.
Shared mobility options, particularly bike-sharing services, are growing rapidly and are providing zero-emission last-mile solutions to support public transport as the backbone of sustainable urban transport. Cities of all sizes and geographic regions are implementing such services, while at the same time enhancing digital and physical mobility infrastructure to support integrated ticketing and e-hubs. Such services and developments are of fundamental importance to deliver the coherent and integrated approach that is needed for effective sustainable urban mobility plans.
However, accessibility to such services remains a concern. As data emerges on the (in)accessibility of bike-sharing infrastructure and services, there is clearly a growing need for gender-disaggregated data on mobility patterns to ensure that new services are designed and deployed in inclusive ways, which cater for women’s transport demands.
Women rely on public transport more than men, yet in many cases services are not built to accommodate their more complex travel patterns (often known as ‘trip chaining’). If shared bike schemes are to provide adequate last mile solutions (and achieve the uptake required to be economically viable), women’s transport demands must be accommodated in a far more targeted way. Women’s mobility needs and patterns are diverse and complex, depending on their age, socio-economic status and care-giving roles; this heterogeneity is often omitted from data collection.
Without such data, developments in transport policy and investment will not deliver the changes required to achieve the ‘inclusivity’ goals laid out by SUMP guidelines. Many cities (and indeed operators) have begun to improve data on women’s mobility by identifying women’s travel patterns and barriers to travel; however, such work remains largely at a preliminary stage and much more progress is needed.
An introduction to the DIAMOND Project
The DIAMOND project on bike-sharing services aimed to research women’s needs as users of bike-sharing services, to increase the percentage of women using these services, as well as to support the development of policies for the management of bike-sharing fleets in a more gender-equitable way. This data collection exercise examined bike-sharing services managed by Syndicat Mixte Autolib et Vélib Métropole in the region of Paris, Region-Petite Couronne.
Autolib’ Vélib’ Métropole works alongside local authorities to support them during all stages of station deployment, deployment and maintenance of bikes, and organises local actions to promote the Vélib’ service in Métropole, in particular by participating in events related to sustainable mobility or through free trials open to all.
This work was part of the wider H2020 DIAMOND project, which used new and existing data to identify how to move towards a more inclusive and efficient transportation system from a gender perspective. It identified and evaluated specific measures implemented in the mobility sector to meet the needs and expectations of women as users of different modes of transport and as workers in the sector.
The project carried out a trans-European data collection exercise to collate qualitative and quantitative data on diversity and gender to ascertain what factors affect women’s satisfaction of different transport modes, such as metro, railway or shared bicycle services.
For the bike-share study, using Geographical Information System (GIS) data, questionnaires, onsite observations and social media feedback, the research revealed that women in Paris use the Vélib’s bike-sharing service far less than men (accounting for just 1/3 of users). The reasons for not using the service included concerns about accessibility, safety and security issues, social constraints, weather and topography.
Background to inclusive shared mobility in Paris
Paris has seen significant progress over the last few years in relation to developing shared mobility services. During the two-month-long COVID-19 lockdown in Paris, which lasted from mid-March to May 2020, 49 per cent of new subscribers to Vélib were women compared to 40 per cent in the months before the pandemic, which may be partially attributable to the temporary cycle lanes which were implemented during this period.
Paris’ progress is to be celebrated, but as DIAMOND revealed, further action is required.
“As highlighted by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States, transport should be designed to be inclusive for women, children, persons with impaired mobility and the elderly. To achieve this, we need to move towards a more inclusive and efficient transportation system from a gendered perspective.” said Andrea Gorrini, a lead researcher on the project.
Combining both quantitative and qualitative research methods, data was collected through a comprehensive literature review, online user-satisfaction surveys, interviews, and focus-group discussions. This research identified data on user perception about bicycle-sharing services, the limitations of the existing schemes and the needs of users to ensure equity and gender fairness in the delivery of services.
The research revealed that:
- significant gender differences exist across users. Women felt less satisfied with the accessibility of services than men, particularly in terms of availability of bikes at the docking stations, distance to the nearest station, type and quality of the cycle paths; as well as having more concerns with safety and security issues.
- satisfaction for users was related to age. Younger respondents (18-44 years) were less critical of bike-sharing systems than older respondents (45-74 years).
- the perception of safety was associated with the volume of traffic. Lower levels of traffic result in an increased perception of safety and higher user satisfaction.
- good visibility and adequate lighting at docking stations helped to increase the sense of security and user satisfaction.
- the satisfaction of women of childbearing age was negatively impacted by the absence of accessories for cycling with children and for carrying goods. Respondents indicated that the provision of such accessories would increase their level of satisfaction with the service.
This research fed into the wider DIAMOND project, which developed a practical toolbox aimed at transport operators, public administration transport planners and employers in the transport sector. This toolbox enabled users to self-assess the level of inclusion and fairness of a particular transport service or organisation from a gender perspective, as well as make recommendations on how to deliver fairness in the transport system for a specific user profile.
Putting gender on the agenda
Actions to improve gender inclusivity can – and must engage operators, and share experiences and challenges.
Last year in Paris, the Mobility Agency convened a workshop on inclusivity and gender for shared mobility, which aimed to push forward gender and diversity action within the transport sector. The objective was to translate general guidelines into context specific action plans.
All Parisian operators were invited to attend the workshop to share good practice and encourage operators to work on these issues. The French capital has also launched a competitive tender to select only three operators to provide shared e-moped schemes in the city; gender and inclusivity are part of the selection criteria that the city will apply when choosing the best offers.
The project is a starting point for the definition of guidelines and policies for the inclusion of women’s needs in the design of future bike-sharing services.
The DIAMOND project’s findings have been echoed by research from Tinngo in the Ile de France region as well as Sustrans (a UK-based active travel charity) who found that culture and religion played an influential role in women’s willingness and capacity for routine cycling. The findings from the DIAMOND project’s research can help municipalities to identify the key actions required to ensure that shared mobility services are more inclusive and gender-equal.
Actions could include:
- establishing equal gender representation on citizen engagement panels and planning committees to ensure that women’s voices are heard both as users and as professional transport planners. This involves sometimes pro-active outreach to women and certain disadvantaged groups (e.g. persons with disabilities, with minority ethnic backgrounds) because otherwise they would not manifest themselves.
- paying attention to journeys involving care responsibilities. Women remain overwhelmingly responsible for childcare and domestic tasks, which is reflected in their mobility patterns. The locations of shared mobility infrastructure must acknowledge and cater for this (for example, by locating infrastructure near to schools). Additionally, the provision of baskets would help users meet their mobility needs for shopping trips and transporting luggage, while the supply of child seats at the stations could help users (including men) who wish to use the services with children.
- addressing concerns relating to security, particularly sexual harassment, when using shared services. The design of shared mobility locations must alleviate security concerns by improving lighting and CCTV monitoring, while simultaneously improving reporting mechanisms. Furthermore, public transport operators, law enforcement and municipal authorities must collaborate to ensure that reporting and follow-up of issues are executed effectively.
- designing an appropriate size of bicycle for women to be used in a bike-sharing scheme. Comfort for all users should be ensured by testing frame proportions and configurations with gender-balanced pilot groups. Here, additional aspects such as age must also be taken into account.
- acknowledging that ethnic background and religion are also critical factors affecting bicycle usage, particularly for women. Planning processes must recognise and respond to associated constraints through engagement with diverse pilot groups and by routinely engaging with users, e.g. by offering free bicycle training courses with female trainers.
To address the above issues successfully, municipalities can work in coordination with local community groups, including schools, churches, charities and employment centres, who can contribute to providing the understanding and data required.
Meanwhile, as other new micro mobility services, such as e-scooters enter the market and expand services, this focus on gendered mobility demands must continue to be on the agenda. Many e-scooter operators have begun to enhance their data on women’s needs and demands, a process which should continue.
Project findings (short version): Unveiling Women’s Needs and Expectations as Users of Bike Sharing Services - Transform Transport (systematica.net)
Project use case website: www.diamond-project.eu/bike-sharing/
TInnGO Workshop for a Gender and Diversity Action Plan in Shared Mobility: TInnGO Workshop for a Gender and Diversity Action Plan in Shared Mobility – TInnGo Observatory (transportgenderobservatory.eu)
Towards inclusive mobility: Women’s needs and behaviours in the Paris Region: TINNGO-French-Hub-Report-1-Final.pdf (transportgenderobservatory.eu)
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- DIAMOND project