UK roads are among the main culprits of its greenhouse gas emissions. And in 2020, 92% passenger-kilometres traveled in the UK were made by cars, vans and taxis. This means that traveling in a private vehicle has a disproportionate negative impact on the environment.
Moreover, only 5.8% vehicles on UK roads are very low emission. Same electric vehicles, while they pollute less while driving, have a significant environmental impact thanks to the materials they are made of. Their disposal also has an environmental cost. And in some areas, the number of car owners is increasing – the county of Hertfordshire is expected to house 20.9% more passenger cars by 2031.
If durability and mobility are equally important concerns, how do you ensure that they are both taken into account? One solution is to encourage people to share transport through a system known as “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS).
Sign up and get your free EV guide
The beginner’s guide to getting an EV
MaaS is essentially a personalized travel management platform that aggregates the transportation modes available in an area to create a unified journey for its users. For example, the Finnish MaaS company Whim allows people to use shared cars, bikes and public transport to create a trip that suits them.
In some cases, this has been very successful in reducing the number of passenger cars on the roads. 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 transport designers (who, at least in Europe, are predominantly male): the fact that the transport needs of women are different from those of men.
MaaS and gender
Women, who across the world generally have less access to private cars, are more at risk than men when moving from place to place. In Europe, an average of 37% of women (compared to 72% of men) own their own car, while 51% (81% of men) have a driving licence. Yet despite this, women are still less likely than men to use MaaS. In EU countries, including Norway, Finland, Germany and Denmark, it has been tried by 40% women compared to 49% of men.
The reasons for these disparities are partly related to gender roles. Women are more likely to be the main goalkeeper of their household, which means they have multiple errands to run, often requiring multiple trips within a shorter radius.
For example, women from child rearing age usually drive to the supermarket, gym and school, as well as transport children to different places. They’re also more likely to need space to carry groceries, strollers and car seats — and kids — which many MaaS offerings don’t support.
Another factor is that women earn less than men, and access to MaaS applications depends on owning a smartphone and 4G connectivity: something that may be unaffordable or inaccessible to low-income people.
Women’s concern for their personal safety also often leads them to choose the relative safety of passenger cars. Even in the UK, where recorded rates of gender-based harassment on public transport are relatively low, 15% women report victims of harassment on buses or trains.
Our research, which is being conducted in Hertfordshire, UK, provides even more evidence of these issues. Participants raised concerns about sharing vehicles with strangers and receiving unwanted attention.
Movement between vehicles (for example, getting out of a car and onto a bicycle) made participants particularly vulnerable. And additional risks can arise when transportation 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 see as safe “cocoons” for mobility.
Make MaaS more secure
Addressing these issues is critical if MaaS is to deliver the full range of sustainability and security benefits it promises. Although 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 strategies proposed by our participants to protect and reassure MaaS users. For example, MaaS providers could embed security features into their apps to keep users’ friends informed of their whereabouts and generate maps based on crime data showing the safest route home. Users can also access driver details if required. A study found that 62% of people – more women than men – would be interested in using such features, despite their privacy flaws remaining regarding.
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 developments and local neighborhoods, where community and trust networks already exist.
Smaller, localized MaaS systems developed around pre-existing groups like these — where, crucially, the sharers wouldn’t be complete strangers — could help users feel more secure. But in the end we have to straighten out gender imbalance in the transport sector so that the cities of tomorrow reflect the needs of 100% of their inhabitants: not just 50%.