I wrote this text for International Women’s Day 2020. Some of the numbers may have changed. Nevertheless, the basis is still current: our transport system is car-centric and thus the focus is on a means of transport that may be highly individual and thus very attractive for the users, but causes harm to all other people, from noise, microplastics, sealing, loss of space to dependency due to a lack of alternatives. I would like to place this text again for today’s Mother’s Day, because more important than giving women* flowers would be to make them free and self-determined in their choice of mobility. We need available, affordable, safe and barrier-free alternatives to the private car – to finally start into a socially and climate-friendly future.
9 out of 10 people are still prejudiced against women today. That means yes!? Exactly! Women also have prejudices against women. In doing so, they support in no small way the patriarchy that we want to overcome together. I am therefore undecided whether the term #WorldWomen’sDay is sufficient. On the one hand, it simplifies the conflicts contained in patriarchy to that between men and women; on the other hand, I doubt that this one day will shape a significantly different consciousness. Because: men suffer from patriarchy and women raise boys within the framework of it. And thus reproduce problems, although we have been celebrating this holiday for decades. I would like to go into these problems a little more deeply today in my field of expertise, the change in mobility. And yes: I am using #WorldWomen’sDay as an opportunity to do so. Also to name some of the blind spots in the construction of mobility. Because what is named is less invisible.
First of all: I am proud. I have been working for 20 years and for some time now I have been noticing a steady movement in making women visible in my sector and beyond. The exciting thing? It’s mainly women who are making this visibility happen. #justsayin‚. So I’m just happy that FemaleOneZero (founded by Natasche Zejlko) counts me among the „40 OVER 40: GERMANY’S MOST INSPIRING WOMEN“, and the Tagesspiegel.Background (essentially coined by Jana Kugoth) chose me among the 20 women who shape mobility. Above all, I am proud to be in the company of women who make a great impression on myself in these two lists made for International Women’s Day. But you know what would impress me even more? If women’s needs for mobility were given more attention. Because THAT would really move us forward as a society in the transport transition. Yet female mobility (and that of other groups) is still „the other“ because it is not male. Too much is still consciously and unconsciously oriented towards male needs – even supposedly „gender-neutral“ things are male-oriented because we are used to this view dominating. Not only, but also in mobility, which is supposed to become more sustainable and attractive in the future. That has to change quickly. I would be happy to explain why I see it that way.
1. the starting position: automobility is male is dominant mobility
Significantly more than men, women use public transport, bicycles and walk. If a household owns a car, it is mostly used by the man alone. Here, conservative countries do not differ from progressive countries like the Scandinavian ones. Nevertheless, it is women who continue to do three quarters of the unpaid care work, i.e. taking children to school, caring for the elderly, doing the shopping. Yes, this is changing – but not nearly as much as all progressive people would like, as the statistics prove. We would have, wouldn’t we? Because it is striking, especially in dual-earner households, that women do twice as much of this care work as men do on their way to work. This means that many of these journeys are in the public domain. Plus: eleven million people in Germany live without a car. This is also a figure that should not be neglected. Have the cycle paths and the public transport system been adapted to the special needs? No. Examples from Sweden are often cited, where it was decided after surveys to clear the footpaths first and then the roads when it was icy. Millions of euros in lost earnings and health costs were saved in this way. Why? Because it was mainly working women who had accidents on foot with their children on the paths. Before, this type of accident – although it had existed for years – lay under one of the blind spots I would like to address. Probably because the planning men did not have this mobility in mind.
2. Can an industry that has less than 20 per cent female managers think „all“ along?
Ok, the answer is a rhetorical one: no, it can’t. Nevertheless, in the Ministry of Transport under Andreas Scheuer, the next two levels of State Secretary Tamara Zieschang, appointed until the end of 2019, are white and male – and also in a similar age and education cohort. And this brings us to the next fact: being a woman in itself is never a good qualification. Just as being a man is not. But the lack of female expertise is. Currently, mobility „is a man’s world“. And that can’t work in the long run, because statistics show it: more than fifty percent of all people are female. But why do they hardly play a role in the current orientation of mobility? Why does an enthusiasm for technology prevail that does not include customers? Why are women not asked, but the male mobility behaviour is continued as the standard? How intelligent can artificial intelligence become if we train it incorrectly on the basis of these preconceptions? I have just cancelled two events and written to the invitees that I no longer attend events with homogeneously populated panels. We seem to need boycotts here too, because by now both enough women are visible and the #allmalepanel theme is set that it is still acceptable for our conferences to remain buddybutts. We need discourse, not unity that doesn’t result in action.
3. we need path chains for equality instead of „stitch traffic“.
I was a guest in Bavaria. Which in itself is difficult for a North German woman. But what was even more difficult was that a man from IG Metall explained that „all this multimodality“ was reserved for women. Men, he said, do their own transport – to work in the morning and back in the evening, in their own cars. At this point, one can either smile or hold one’s laughter in one’s throat, because with this backward-looking attitude, the gentleman is still right today. Women make more and shorter journeys at different times because, despite all attempts to lead equal relationships, the largest share of „care work“ still falls to them. To accomplish their daily tasks, they use public transport much more often than men and walk more. The problem is that their unpaid work is invisible because it is categorised as leisure, companionship and errands. And thus is not measured as „work“, let alone recognised.
The term „rush hour“ refers to the classic commute to work in the morning and back in the afternoon. This refers to paid work – but not unpaid work, which generates further journeys for women. This already puts the system at odds, because it is concerned with the standard of paid work – and only with this. And thus neglects all the other journeys that also take place every day, even though they play a major role in our functioning society. And here, too, monetary details play a weighty role, because as women’s income increases, the differences in travel behaviour between men and women decrease. Research by the World Bank shows that up until ten years ago, three quarters of the funds allocated to transport went into the expansion of roads. Another sign of the neglect of non-motorised mobility. So what does this mean for the „new mobility“, which above all wants to make people independent of privately owned cars?
4 Does male mobility know the meaning of „safety“?
And by that I don’t just mean the safety of women who want to move freely in public space, but also the safety of those who drive the vehicles. The figures as part of #notmymobility Awareness Week are frightening. How can it be that a professional environment is designed to be so unsafe for female employees? Does this fact also explain the lack of skilled workers in this field? Has data already been collected across the board in order to take action?
Why do services such as Google Maps know the fastest route but not the safest one? I think not least because men don’t have to deal with priority A, the safety of routes. Women, on the other hand, are statistically at a higher risk of becoming victims of crime and violence. And of course this relates to public space and thus the use of local transport services. Fix the system – not the women. This saying has meaning everywhere, including in the design of sustainable, barrier-free, safe public transport.
In some cities, over 90% of women have experienced sexual harassment on public transport. Of course, this leads to a restriction in the use of public transport and thus to a restriction in women’s quality of life, access to education, culture and leisure opportunities. Especially when there is no car in the household. Women tend to prefer door-to-door and car-sharing services to arrive safely at home. This is because the journey from public transport to one’s own front door is perceived as unsafe and dangerous. For example, women in some US cities replaced expensive taxi rides with e-scooter rides because they felt safer on them than on foot. Should we consider this when planning future sustainable mobility? Enrique Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogotá, agrees with me: „A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It is the place where the rich use public transport.“ But that also means taking security concerns seriously instead of smiling mildly about them.
And it means, above all, taking seriously the fact that while technical details like surveillance cameras and emergency call buttons are enough for men to feel safe – women here prefer staff they can turn to directly in case of harassment. Because let’s be honest: What use is recorded harassment if it can happen and initially go unpunished?
5. does male mobility know the „hindrance“ of prams and bad pavements?
I only have to go outside my door to mourn the unspeakable „quality“ of many pavements in Hamburg. Highly parked pavement slabs make it almost impossible for people with prams and children with wheels to use the path safely. Ankle-deep puddles that persist for days after the downpour turn the footpath into a slalom. We put everything that is needed in terms of signs and furniture on the path, not on the road. Traffic lights, café chairs, rubbish bins. This further constricts the space that everyone shares on the other side of the road.
E-scooters exacerbate the problem because cities have not agreed with the providers on parking spaces, but have simply dumped the new means of transport into the urban space. When stops have lifts, people with prams often move so slowly to their train that three trains have passed through before they reach it. Studies show that routes with small children or prams take up to four times longer because they are not designed with this target group in mind. The same applies to walkers and people in wheelchairs. We currently immobilise them far too often. Plus: children under the age of nine are driven by car for half of their journeys, which affects their cognitive development. This should also change. Contrary to what the media say, car dominance continues unabated after the age of driving licence. The lack of alternatives certainly plays a role here as well. 6.
6 Commuter mobility dominates publicly owned transport networks
My vision is to make people free to choose. If they want to give up their cars and thus free up space, air and resources for themselves and others, they should be offered good alternatives. But in terms of transport planning, almost every route network is still geared to commuter traffic – and thus marginalises women once again, who have to cover different distances each day. The routes of male and female mobility are not so different, but the way they are designed and, in the case of women, generated from several sub-routes, requires completely different approaches. You know how it is: route networks are often star-shaped; as commuters, we want to get from A to B quickly and then back. Care work, however, is not organised in this way. It would also require a „circular relationship“ to get to neighbouring districts. In the traditionally poorly developed local transport networks in the USA, it was found that journeys with UBER were twice as fast as the same routes in public transport. However, this cannot be the solution, as here the private car is only replaced by a rented one with driver:in and thus the urban space is not relieved. Another no-go: these services are too expensive for daily use. And the gender pay gap is 37.8 per cent on average worldwide. So why not organise UBER from the public purse? Ridepooling on-demand can even be made barrier-free through the respective equipment of the vehicles – at the moment the ride is ordered.
7 And this brings us to one of my favourite topics: Who owns the city?
The use of space and urban design in our cities are no longer human-centred, but geared to the car. Transport and urban planning are separated, which inevitably led to inefficient use of resources and environmental damage in the past Cities where there is hardly any pedestrian infrastructure to protect women and their children, cities where bicycle lanes are blocked by parked cars, we have to overcome this spatial design if we want to create attractive cities for all. Especially for those who live there. At the moment, however, our urban planning is mainly aimed at those who want to drive quickly through our cities. Space and deceleration are needed here. Urgently.
8 Sharing must become caring
E-scooters, rental bikes, public transport – theoretically all accessible, also for the mobility of working women bringing up children or caring for them. What is not visible are above all the „private“ journeys that are nevertheless part of women’s work and also cause journeys. But of course an et-scooter is not suitable for carrying children and a rental bike rarely offers the possibility of transporting shopping by bike – unless a woman equips herself and takes appropriate luggage with her. And even then it becomes difficult when a child and a kindergarten bag have to be taken along on a stage. Sharing services need to be more comprehensively equipped in order to be able to compete with the car. The advantage: if you think about these requirements, you help everyone and not just a specific target group. Ticketing systems should also be thought of in a more uniform and comprehensive way so that people do not have to pay for each ride individually – which quickly becomes too expensive.
Conclusion: The inclusion of women in the planning process is an important element, as they can disclose their travel needs.
Last but not least, we definitely need to increase the percentage of women working in the transport sector. Jobs need to become more attractive to women, more women need to be involved in decision making and recruitment to create a transport sector that is designed for EVERYONE. Countries like Canada or Denmark have long since made women the benchmark especially also of good cycling infrastructure. If there are significantly fewer female cyclists on the road, this is a good indicator that the infrastructure is not right. Because: It doesn’t get 50 percent of the population on their bikes. Quite simply. The same applies to security at railway stations, where lounges should not be guarded until after the last train has arrived, but then they are often closed or unstaffed. Safety should be worth something to us, especially if we want to work together to bring about a change in transport policy.SPIEGEL-Bestseller: Autokorrektur. Mobilität für eine lebenswerte Welt. 2022 ausgezeichnet mit dem Deutschen Wirtschaftsbuchpreis, dem Deutschen Mobilitätspreis des BMDV in der Kategorie Menschen und Publikumspreis.
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