Can TOD bring gender balance in mobility?

Mobility studies all over the world, from gender perspective, have revealed that compared to men, travel patterns of women are characteristically different. Women make short multiple trips during the day for various purposes. The gender-differentiated role of women related to family activities, limited access to private transport and limited ‘space of action’ are responsible for such travel patterns. Contrary to what some might believe, these patterns of movement are not different for developing and developed countries. The numbers might differ, the patterns remain. In addition to the gender role in familial responsibilities, other factors of lower employment rates, part-time jobs and lower-wage positions also create a significant gap between genders in the labour market, in social life and hence in their transport behavior. With women now making up an increasingly higher percentage of wage earners, both in formal and informal economic setting, they now have to manage even more complex travel patterns by carefully ‘chaining’ their trips from home to work, to schools, shopping, health care, and recreational facilities. Women’s mobility patterns are also more intricately tied to those of their children. For example, a study in Sweden (2006) showed that the presence of young children reduced the travel activity of women, but there was no such effect on men.

Studies also show that women are more likely to use transit, cycle or walk to fulfil their travel needs, which is often not by choice. One main reason for this is the access to cars. Whenever access to a car is constrained by ownership, it is typically a woman who compromises. But gender equity considerations based on access to cars can be in contradiction with new ‘green’ transport policies actively seeking to restrict car use. Men’s way of travelling, predominantly by car, generates large economic and environmental loss. In Sweden, men consume significantly more energy in relation to transport than women. About 40% of men’s total energy use is connected to transport, while that for women is just 25% . Clearly, gender equality in mobility cannot be brought about by encouraging use of cars as this is a highly unsustainable solution. The need is to encourage sustainable modes of transport (like transit, cycle or walk) to achieve both equality in mobility and sustainable development. Large social benefits can be made if the cities encourage changing the travelling behavior of men.

Currently, in most of the cities worldwide, existing environmental, social and land-use conditions make it very hard for women to fulfil their complex travel needs without cars. Empirical studies done in various parts of the world prove that in-line with theoretical considerations, urban structural variables like density, mix of land uses and urban design have a strong influence on travel patterns and modal share. The distance between residences and city centres or employment zones, population densities and mixed-ness of residential land uses with other facilities are considered to be important factors that influence the travel patterns. Traditionally, our transport planning has been centered around the commuting needs of men, conveniently ignoring the non-work trips made by women for various purposes and for variable distances. The cities need to create an urban environment with a good quality transit system that not only allows women to continue their sustainable travel patterns of using transit, cycling and walking, but that also encourages men to make their travel patterns more sustainable. Transit- Oriented Development (TOD) aims to do exactly that.

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is a planning approach that aims at creating walkable neighborhoods within walking distance of a high-quality transit service, thereby encouraging people (both men and women) to walk or cycle for short trips (like those for groceries) and use transit for longer trips (such as work trips). A typical TOD has a dense development with land use diversity (mixing residences with commercial and other facilities) and a walkable/ cyclable urban design. Effective implementation of TOD’s 5Ds (Density, Diversity and Design, Destination Accessibility and Distance to transit) can result in fair, equal and sustainable mobility options by reducing our dependence on cars. By creating TODs, we cannot change the social conditions leading to gender-gap in our mobility patterns, but we can create an urban environment that does not make it harder for women to carry on their activities and feel short-changed. TOD is not just a sustainable approach to development; it is also a step towards gender balance in mobility.

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