Giving a voice to women and disadvantaged user groups in Transport

The next instalment in our series, Beyond Bax, takes a look at transport inclusivity, with special insights from Professor Andree Woodcock. Fresh from her presentation at the Women in Transport Conference, she opened up about her personal experience as a female in the transport sector and argued that eliminating the gender bias will, in turn, help disadvantaged user groups.

How did you get involved in your work on gender equality in transport?

AW. My PhD looked at ergonomics and car design. What I was interested in was getting the engineers and designers to understand the users’ needs, rather than just the design and the engineering, which was inspired by my experience as a woman. As a mother of two small children, I became very fearful of the road, so I wanted to look into getting women’s issues considered in car design. In 1999 I received my first grant from the Department of Transport, which looked at women’s safety and security as car occupants. We found that women were more vulnerable in car crashes regardless of the type of crash, where they sat or the location of the injury. Airbags were not modelled on women’s anatomy so there have been countless airbag injuries.

There was no voice for women at all at that time [In 1999], and we were ridiculed for the gender bias of the grant, with defamatory posts calling us ‘witches of the highway’. Around the same time, the first Women in Transport conference was held in the US, where they faced similar prejudices; it took 15 years for them to hold a second conference.

Shortly after this, I was fortunate enough to embark on a series of European projects. The first was METPEX, which looked at developing a pan-European, end-to-end multimodal passenger journey evaluation tool recognising the needs of different user groups – people with disabilities, mobility impairments, people with communication difficulties, rural dwellers, as well as women. Despite campaigning efforts using a plethora of engagement methods, including ergonomics and design communications, local authorities still found hard-to-reach groups hard to reach. Local authorities didn’t know how to engage with them. This challenge persists today. As part of H2020 CIVITAS, my second project SUITS is looking at capacity building in small to medium local authorities to help them with the implementation of sustainable transport measures. This is one of the areas we are targeting. It is also encouraging to see that non-tokenistic user engagement is being written more forcefully in the SUMP 2.0 guidelines.

Now I’m working on the H2020 TinnGO project, a 3-year project running until November 2021. We aim to promote gender equality in all areas of transport at a European level, with strategic mechanisms to facilitate access and participation of women both as users and workers and through the adaptation of infrastructure and services.

Please tell us more about the TinnGO project and your ambitions

AW. We’re setting up a transport innovation gender observatory – a one-stop platform for policymakers, scholars, and citizens involved in smart mobility. The main focus is on smart mobility and linked to the Smart City Agenda. We want to provide tools for gender and diversity mainstreaming and action planning. We’re collecting data on women’s mobility Europe-wide (via 10 hubs in 10 different locations, each one with a different focus). We want to get the voice of women out there and support the co-creation of gender and diversity-sensitive smart transport innovations for local contexts.

We’re also looking at diversity mainstreaming. It’s not just the division of men and women; it’s looking at trans women, trans men, and a whole host of other diversity issues, as well as disability. Gender and diversity mainstreaming are key, so we can move women and people with different forms of ability into key decision-making positions.

What role do new technologies play in increasing transport inclusivity?

AW. When the new system works well, it has many advantages. However, for disadvantaged groups, multiple levels of deprivation prevent them from actually taking advantage of available services, predominantly poor literacy and digital competence.

Other preliminary problems are also blocking these users, for example, women in Pakistan can’t travel autonomously. Also, people with low communication and digital skills can’t use new ICT-enabled transport. Developers don’t actually look at this very much; they don’t see it as the market segment they should be interested in.

Local authorities are already worried that MaaS will create great barriers to inclusion. If there are reductions in subsidised transport, if the market and operator collapses, how will they manage and cover gaps in service? We need a simpler user interface, reliable value-added systems, awareness-raising training, and a socio-technical approach which clearly matches the needs of the people who have been using that system.

What should each stakeholder’s role be in creating a fully inclusive transportation environment?

AW. There should be a clear strategy and action plan in place. With European projects, often local authorities change over time and you need to re-sell the project and plan for organisational churn. In the SUITS project, the local authority asked us for a lot of information, but it was not clear what we were offering in return. The value [return] needs to be clear for them to implement anything. It has taken a while to establish trust.

Now we’ve been trying to develop change visions with our local authorities, helping them formulate a vision for where they want to be in the future, and then take them through what they need to achieve that vision. It’s about creating this win-win situation for them and making sure that they can see a value in what you’re doing. In SUITS, we’re trying to get our local authorities to be more innovative and create learning organisations, which can be sustainable after the project. For this, we need to look at capacity building at individual, organisational and institutional levels. This approach supports the SUMP 2.0 process, and visions for future smart cities, which require interdepartmental and multistakeholder collaboration.

Co-creation between various stakeholders is a growing trend in practically any domain, but many difficulties still exist. There is still a challenge in engaging different people and managing expectations – IP and ownership issues, ethics, and expectations need to be managed. If you ask people to give up their time and ideas, you need to look at it from their perspective and make sure they get something out of the process. It’s also important to make sure users have fun and feel like they are taking something good from the experience.

All my project work goes through ethical sign-off and regulations on responsible research and innovation practices. In order to transmit the right messages for different groups to respond in the best way they can, we have to train the key staff in empathy, management of expectations, honesty, and transparency. Behavioural change is difficult to understand and manage. There are many ways of doing it but with mixed results.

Which are the best ways to learn about the specific needs of a certain user community?

AW. Interviews and surveys are the typical methods but prove to be not so useful. I would say always do qualitative research, try to put yourself in the user’s shoes. Shadowing them, using diaries, talking to them, living their lives with them. Everything has to take place within the community where they need change. It’s no good trying to do it in a university or an office, let’s go down to the community and find out what’s taking place there and talk to the people in their own environment. Decision-makers find this hard. You need to actually listen and then transfer what you have learnt into practice. There is a lack of empathy. I am teaching my undergraduate design and engineering students to feel empathy for the people they design for, especially older people, using low and high-fidelity experiential simulations.

Are citizens ready to embrace the responsibility they have in creating a better transportation future? 

AW. I think they are, but they need to trust us, so we first need to build up good relationships. Also, importantly, citizens need to first have all their basic needs covered and then they can care about improving the transport system.

With the rise of the Living Labs concept, has the time arrived when experiments and pilots are being taken out from the labs to the streets? 

AW. TinnGO draws on the European Network of Living Labs and citizen science. At the moment we are planning our hubs, with a view to get them working in the coming 12 months. It is very important to keep citizens engaged during a long project.

The key challenge is continuation once the funding is over. What happens after the project finishes? We may have an engaged and enthusiastic community, but then what happens? Are project outcomes sustainable, for example, behavioural nudges, uptake of apps after the lifetime of the project? Who adopts ownership and makes sure that the innovation reaches its full potential?

Many co-creation (or bottom-up innovation initiatives) fail to be adopted by those in charge of implementing the developed solutions. How can we make sure that bottom-up initiatives are also in line with more top-down approaches and thus increase their adoption and impact?

AW. You have to get to know the key decision-makers and the communications department and make them your best friends. Invite them to the sessions, show them what they’re going to actually get out of it, try to understand what their master plan or vision is and make sure you fit into it.

Use social media in any way you can think of to generate interest in the events (or projects) and do follow-ups in the language that the decision-makers all understand. If they only understand cost-benefit analysis, you can give them something quantitative. Also, try being part of their solution, it is about creating that win-win situation for them.

Your work in increasing transport inclusivity focuses particularly on solving gender inequality. Why is it so important in the transport sector? How will society benefit from having more equal and inclusive mobility?

AW. Evidence has suggested that women travel in more sustainable ways than men. This may be through choice or necessity. If they are not the main wage earner, their journeys aren’t represented. So far we have acknowledged that women ‘trip chain’ more, make more complicated journeys, but how is this information being used to design better services, for example around the mobility of care? Looking at women’s mobility needs e.g. as a parent, wage earner, daughter, carer and housekeeper will provide a different perspective on the transport needs of a city. In the EU, most women are in a privileged position and share care and household duties. Making transport easier, more accessible, safer, and faster improves the overall quality of life (e.g. by reducing exhaustion and anxiety related to constant vigilance in the public realm for everyone).

If we have more gender equality in transport, then the economy’s going to thrive. We’re looking at diversity, equality and intersectionality as key issues for improving accessibility to opportunity. If we can start improving the situation for women, we can adopt similar approaches for other groups. Also by getting women and those from underrepresented groups more involved in the discussion, we’ll frame it in different terms, terms that haven’t been explored already.

The transport sector isn’t just about transport, it is meant to serve a purpose, and it’s there to give people accessibility to the resources around the city, and each other. We need to stop thinking of transport as just movement of traffic and try to think of it as an integral mechanism of a city (and beyond), which needs to be smart and inclusive if we want cities to be.

At Bax & Company, we’re lucky enough to work with experts in emerging and existing fields from around the world. Beyond Bax is an opportunity for us to share some of their knowledge with you.

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