UK roads are some of the main culprits of its greenhouse gas emissions. And in 2020, 92% of passenger-kilometres traveled in the UK was done by cars, vans and taxis. This means that getting around in a private vehicle has a disproportionately large negative impact on the environment.
And more, just 5.8% of vehicles on UK roads are ultra-low emission. Until Electric vehicles, while generating less pollution when driven, have a substantial environmental impact thanks to the materials used to create them. Getting rid of them also comes at an environmental cost. And in some areas, car ownership is on the rise – the county of Hertfordshire is expected to become home to 20.9% more private cars by 2031.
If sustainability and mobility are equally important concerns, how can we ensure that both are addressed? One solution is to encourage people to share transportation through a system known as “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS).
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MaaS is essentially a custom travel management platform that bundles available modes of transport in one area to create a unified journey for its users. For example, Finnish MaaS company Whim allows people to use shared cars, bicycles and public transport to create a journey that works for them.
In some cases this has been very successful in reducing the number of private cars on the road. In several cities in Finland, for example, MaaS has reduced private car use from 40% to 20%. However, there is something that has been overlooked by the transport designers (who at least in Europe, they are predominantly male): the fact that women’s transport needs are different from those of men.
MaaS and gender
Women, who generally across the world have less access to private cars, face more risks than men when commuting from one place to another. Across Europe, an average of 37% of women (compared to 72% of men) own a car, while 51% (81% of men) have a driving licence. However, despite this, women are still less likely than men to use MaaS. In EU countries including Norway, Finland, Germany and Denmark, it has been tested by 40% of women compared to 49% of men.
The reasons for these disparities are partly linked to gender roles. Women are more likely to main caretaker from their home, which means they have multiple errands to run, often requiring multiple trips within a shorter radius.
For example, women from child rearing age they usually drive to the supermarket, gym and school, as well as transporting children to different locations. They’re also more likely to need space to carry groceries, strollers and car seats – and children – which many MaaS offerings don’t cater for.
Another factor is that women usually earn less than men, and access to MaaS apps is dependent on smartphone ownership and 4G connectivity: something that may be unaffordable or unaffordable for those who earn less.
Women’s concern for their personal safety also often leads them to choose the relative safety of private cars. Even in the UK, where recorded rates of sexual harassment on public transport are comparatively low, 15% of women report being harassed on buses or trains.
Our research, which is being conducted in Hertfordshire, UK, provides even more evidence for these problems. Female participants highlight concerns about sharing vehicles with strangers and receiving unwanted attention.
Switching between vehicles (eg, getting out of a car and getting on a bicycle) made participants feel particularly vulnerable. And additional risks can arise when transport services are delayed, exposing the waiting traveler to potentially dangerous situations. These factors put MaaS at a disadvantage compared to private vehicles, which many women consider safe “cocoons” for mobility.
Making MaaS more secure
It is vital that these issues are addressed if MaaS is to deliver the full range of sustainability and security benefits it promises. While more research is needed in this area, it is clear that if women and men adopted MaaS at the same rate, there would be a significant positive impact on the environment, with thousands of private cars no longer needed on the roads.
Some of the strategies proposed by our participants to protect and reassure MaaS users. For example, MaaS providers can build security features into their applications to keep users’ friends informed of their whereabouts and generate maps based on crime data that show the safest route home. Users can also access driver details if needed. A study found that 62% of people – more women than men – would be interested in using features like these, although their privacy flaws remain. relative.
Another strategy could be to design smaller, more local MaaS systems that foster a sense of community and trust. In Sweden, for example, carpooling is often used in residential neighborhoods and neighborhoods where community and trust networks already exist.
Smaller, localized MaaS systems built around pre-existing groups like these – where, crucially, the sharers wouldn’t be total strangers – can help make users feel more secure. But ultimately we need to fix gender imbalance in the transport sector to ensure that the cities of the future reflect the needs of 100% of their inhabitants: not just 50%.