Monthly Archives: October 2021

Why urban mobility policies should consider women

27-10-2021

Shutterstock / agsaz

Lídia Montero Mercade, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech and Jaume Barceló Bugeda, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech

As we will all have noted at some point, the location of services in our city is of utmost importance to carry out our daily activities, which are limited in space and time. Transport is determined by the topography of the region and the topology of the available transport network.

If we combine the above, accessibility is not only governed by the spatial and temporal dimension. It is also defined by individual factors such as gender, age, family situation, ethnicity, race, religion, mental/physical capacity and economic class of those who live and travel in the region.

Transport is a resource needed to access services, carry out activities, enjoy the city and, in general, exercise our rights as citizens. Therefore, transport is the tool that makes accessibility possible. As Jean-Paul Rodrigue stated, demand for transport is a demand derived from a  need, leaving aside tourist journeys (which are marginal).

Gender differences in mobility

Transport and urban planning have not traditionally taken into account gender differences. Cities have been designed in accordance with a traditional vision of people who go from home to work and from work to home. However, gender plays an important role in mobility in the way that we live in the city.

Studies around the world have shown that men have longer journeys and more direct patterns of travel than women.

Women carry out many activities and many of their journeys are related with mobility for care: they often leave their children at the school or nursery, do the shopping, accompany relatives to health services and take care of the home.

For all these reasons, women have more complicated patterns of transport, characterized by shorter, linked journeys and longer journey times, as can be seen in many studies in different parts of the world. In addition, they depend more on public transport, whereas men tend to use more private transport.

As shown by Eurostat, gender differences in participation in the home and family care are considerable, which is why the daily patterns differ.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) also notes that the disproportionate amount of time that women dedicate to care and unpaid work has a direct impact on their employment opportunities and other activities. All these factors contribute to different patterns of mobility by gender.

Changes due to the Covid-19 pandemic

Since the expansion of the Covid-19 pandemic, patterns of mobility have changed. Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. Many people began to work from home. According to the INE, in 2019 only 4.8% worked from home habitually (for half of the week or more) and 3.5% worked from home occasionally.

Those who could telework tended to be highly qualified with better salaries and contract conditions. Others had to cut their working day or lose their job. In addition, during the first months of the pandemic, schools closed and children only had online classes. Open air activities were severely restricted.

Only front-line workers could travel and they carried out essential care activities. In Spain, women represent up to 66 % of health staff, 84% of nursing professionals, and 84% of carers of elderly people. In Catalonia, 22.9% of women are employed in education, health and social work, compared to 6.8% of men. However, these are jobs that may be more short-term and have lower salaries.

We analysed the trends and patterns of mobility in Barcelona Metropolitan Area before and after the pandemic outbreak of Covid-19, with a particular focus on issues of gender and equality. The study was based mainly on data gathered from smart phones.

The results show that gender plays a relevant role in mobility, as highlighted in other studies. However, after the pandemic outbreak some population groups had more opportunities to change their patterns of mobility than others. All of this occurred in a situation of restrictions, in which the frequency of public transport decreased, while the risks of infection increased.

Differences according to socioeconomic level

We carried out an exploratory analysis using data from journeys within Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB) carried out by residents. The information came from mobile phones and per capita income was considered.

The results indicate that, in general terms, the total number of journeys dropped from 2019 to 2020. However, the numbers did not go down evenly in all socioeconomic categories. Daily journeys carried out by low-income groups were similar between 2019 and 2020. A gender effect was suspected that could not be confirmed because there was a lack of detailed individual information to understand the behaviour.

In 2020, the groups with the highest income reduced their mobility in comparison with the groups with lowest income. Workers with the lowest incomes were employed in front-line jobs like care activities. They were, basically, people who could not telework. According to the statistics, women were more likely to form part of this group.

In recent years, technology and the emergence of new mobility services have shaped and transformed patterns of mobility, especially for certain population groups. Before the pandemic, a case study of Barcelona showed that women were inclined to prefer sustainable modes, while men preferred micro-mobility alternatives.

Micromobility is simply not suitable for many typical journeys of women, for example for shopping and activities of accompanying or caring for others. Therefore, women prefer to move around central areas of Barcelona by public transport or on foot. However, as shown in the analysis of data from the EMEF Survey, women also depend more on private transport in the peripheries of Barcelona.

Diagram that represents the factors involved in urban mobility.
Adapted de Glenn Lyons, PTV UK Innovation Day, 2019, Londres.

How to better manage urban mobility

Activities that can be carried out without the need for physical movement, due to the virtual access enabled by technologies, could lead to new patterns of mobility for the population segments that can use them. This is not the case of tasks that can only be undertaken in person. In these, gender and age are a discriminating factor.

Therefore, achieving the objective of sustainability in urban mobility concerns not only technology, but also the conditions that determine accessibility needs for undertaking activities. This implies transport system users’ needs to physically guarantee accessibility. Therefore, accessibility to transport needs to be reconsidered for different population groups and a fair distribution of quality services in the city is indispensable.

The postpandemic period could trigger major changes in the city: an increase in the use of technology, reflection on unnecessary mobility and a change in ways of working and services. However, all these topics should be considered in line with policies of sustainability and equality. What is known as the digital gap is an example of this.

This study leaves many doors open for future research in the field of mobility. In a world where an enormous amount of data can be accessed, it is essential to break them down, for example, to relate the distributions of travel times and distances with information that includes the specific factors that affect gender conditions.


The consultant Lucía Mejía-Dorantes collaborated in writing this article.

Lídia Montero Mercade, lecturer, specialized in transport, in the Department of Statistics and Operations Research, and Operations Research, and researcher at the inLab FIB of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech and Jaume Barceló Bugeda, emeritus professor in the Department of Statistics and Operations Research, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.