Beware the Gender Gap in Public Transportation

Jamie’s Team Pick:

I heart public transit. This is partially due to my distaste for driving, its related expense, stress, and environmental destruction, but mostly I really like reading and writing while in transit. (Also, the option to fall asleep late at night.) In other news, a new Stanford University study “Transportation: Reconceptualizing Data Collection” reveals what may be a significant gender gap in public transit use contributed to what they are calling the “mobility of care” factor.

Eric Jaffe of the The Atlantic reports on the study,

By reexamining transportation data, the researchers at Gendered Innovations believe they’ve uncovered evidence that women ride transit systems much more often than typical numbers suggest. The researchers contend that regular transit surveys obscure the number of trips caregivers (particularly parents or, more likely, mothers) take; that serial trips, which women make more often than men, aren’t sufficiently defined; and that aggregated ridership figures, particularly by race, create incomplete pictures of the riding public. These true numbers, the researchers conclude, should encourage metro transit systems to redesign facilities to accommodate the transport needs of women.

Data from both Europe and the United States suggest that women spend much more time using public transit for child care and other types of “care”, or unpaid labor, and “trip chaining” which is basically hopping around from train to bus to another train while running a bunch of errands. See beautiful charts below.




This study is a project of Gendered Innovations, which employs methods of sex and gender analysis to create new knowledge. It’s encouraging to see a study pointing to the need to address sex and gender variables in data collection when so often this information is poorly collected and represented.

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Jamie J. Hagen

Jamie lives in Boston and is currently a PhD student in Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a freelance writer and also a team associate for the Boston chapter of Hollaback!.

Jamie has written 76 articles for us.


    • But to stick to the point: Thanks for providing me with research I can slap my friends in the face with. I’ve been grumbling about the total lack of white middle age man in public transport, yet they’re the ones deciding about it.

  1. I wonder how women’s fear of rape/assault plays into all of this. If it makes us less likely to take transit because we’re afraid it will happen on transit (so we take our own cars, etc.), or if we’re more likely to use transit (versus walking or biking) because of our fear of assault.

    • When I was at university, I lived at home, in a rural area and commuted in by bus each day, a 40 minute journey. If I was out late at night, I would be much more likely to try and use a bus service to get home – rather than a taxi.

      This seems odd, but with the amount of incidents at that time of taxi drivers assaulting women (there was a spate of it in the ’90s where I lived), I found it much less worrying to be on public transport than in a car with someone I didn’t know?

      • Same here. People who don’t live in the city think I’m nuts but I’d much rather ride the subway or bus late at night if I’m traveling alone. That movie The Bone Collector totally made me afraid of taxis, lol.

    • I know for me, I would much rather walk or bike than take the bus, but that’s because bus shelters and bus stops are really good places to get mugged in my home city. If you’re walking, you’re less of a target

  2. I’d be interested to see this data alongside data on car ownership among the same study group. The data on 2-adult households makes it look like, if the family owns a car, it’s more often the man who drives it.

    • In the older generation couples, it seems like a lot of guys wouldn’t be comfortable having a woman drive them somewhere. Like they wouldn’t want to be seen being a passenger to a female driver (or at least that’s how people think where I’m from!)

      I’ve never seen a guy do that in my generation though – there’s a much more even sharing of driving within a couple/family.

  3. Pingback: Why Women Use Public Transit More Than Men – Finding Out About

  4. The trip-chaining aspect also suggests that public transit commissions should look at their ideas about frequency over the course of a day. For example, my bus runs every 30 minutes during commute time, but then only every hour and fifteen minutes in the middle of the day. If I was using it to trip-chain and do errands, that would never work!

    • Oh man, don’t get me started.

      Is it too stereotypical if I attribute that partially to people who hardly use it get to decide on how the public transport runs?

    • Word. I have no (well, minimal) problems getting to and from work at peak time, but say I have an appointment in the middle of the day or I have to go home sick… I’m pretty well screwed, in that case.

  5. I immediately read “I heart public transit” as “I hate public transit” and thought OH, ME, TOO. Sorry, I was projecting. When I lived in Portland, though, I hearted it deeply.

    In Columbus public transit’s defense, it…exists, which is better than not. I also get lots of super stories to tell at parties, because who doesn’t want to hear about rotting flesh, molestation, and insults that string profanities together like popcorn on a garland?

    • “because who doesn’t want to hear about rotting flesh, molestation, and insults that string profanities together like popcorn on a garland”

      Cracking. Up.

      But also, terrible!

  6. I live in a small city and commute primarily by bike. Often times I use the bus for errands and this data is no surprise to me. The majority of people I see throughout a full day of errands are women care-takers. Mostly mothers and young nannies or baby sitters with small children. I’m wondering what needs this group might have that other groups do not? Accessibility issues? Cost issues? I also know elderly people make up a good portion of bus commuters where I live, and it seems like many of their needs would go hand in hand with that of children and care-takers.

  7. I’ve rarely felt unsafe on a bus or train, but often have when walking from the bus stop/train station to my house. Generally if it makes more sense for me to get public transport I’ll drive to the stop or station and park as close as possible in a well lit area. Was really glad of this one night when getting off the tram cuz some guy followed me to my car, if I had been walking any further I dont know what would have happened.

    • Even though we live in a pretty safe neighborhood, my partner and I do the same. (Although apparently a while back, someone got stabbed in our train station carpark. So who knows…)

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