• 'Mobility as a Service' (MaaS) encourages people to share transport rather than use private cars.
  • But women typically have different transport needs than men, something often overlooked by transport apps.
  • Uptake among women is low, with safety being one of the primary issues.
  • Local community systems and in-built safety features can help alleviate some of these concerns.

The UK’s roads are some of the main culprits of its greenhouse gas emissions. And in 2020, 92% of passenger kilometres travelled in the UK was made by cars, vans and taxis. That means getting around by private vehicle has a disproportionately large negative impact on the environment.

What’s more, only 5.8% of vehicles on UK roads are ultra-low emission. Even electric vehicles, though they create less pollution when driven, have a substantial environmental impact thanks to the materials used to create them. Getting rid of them has an environmental cost, too. And in some areas, car ownership is growing – 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 do we make sure they’re both addressed? One solution is encouraging people to share transport through a system known as “Mobility as a Service” (MaaS).

MaaS is essentially a personalised travel management platform that slots together available modes of transport in an 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 roads. In several cities in Finland, for example, MaaS has pushed private car usage down from 40% to 20%. However, there’s something that’s been overlooked by transport designers (who, at least in Europe, are overwhelmingly male): the fact that women’s transport needs are different to men’s.

MaaS and gender

Women, who generally across the world have less access to private cars, face more risks than men when getting from one place to another. Across Europe, an average of 37% of women (compared to 72% of men) own their own car, while 51% (81% of men) hold a driving license. Yet despite this, women are still less likely than men to use MaaS. In EU countries including Norway, Finland, Germany and Denmark, it’s been tried by 40% of women compared to 49% of men.

Reasons for these disparities are partly tied to gender roles. Women are more likely to be the prime caretaker of their household, meaning that they have multiple errands to run, often requiring multiple journeys within a shorter radius.

Women on a train.
Women tend to have different transport patterns that are often not catered for by MaaS apps.
Image: Piqsels

For instance, women of child-rearing age typically drive to the supermarket, the gym and to school, as well as ferrying children to different locations. They’re also more likely to need space to carry shopping, prams and car seats – and children – which many MaaS offerings do not cater for.

Another factor is that women typically earn less than men, and access to MaaS applications is reliant upon smartphone ownership and 4G connectivity: something which may be unaffordable for or inaccessible to lower earners.

Women’s concern for their personal safety also often leads them to choose the relative security of private cars. Even in the UK, where recorded rates of gendered harassment on public transport are comparatively low, 15% of women report experiencing harassment 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 unknown people and receiving unwanted attention.

Shifts between vehicles (for example, getting out of a car and onto a bicycle), made participants feel particularly vulnerable. And additional risks can arise when transport services are late, exposing the waiting traveller to potentially dangerous situations. These factors put MaaS at a disadvantage compared to private vehicles, which many women view as safe “cocoons” for mobility.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in ten countries across three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Panama in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All Country Accelerators, along with Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a wider ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, that facilitates exchange of insights and experiences through the Forum’s platform.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Making MaaS safer

It’s vital that these issues are addressed if MaaS is to bring the full range of sustainability and safety benefits it promises. Although more research is needed in this area, it’s clear that if women and men adopted MaaS at the same rate, there’d be a significant positive impact on the environment, with thousands of private cars no longer needed on roads.

Woman at a bus stop at night.
Lone women often report feeling unsafe using public transport, especially at night.
Image: PxHere

Some of our participants proposed strategies to protect and reassure female MaaS users. For example, MaaS providers could build safety features into their apps to keep users’ friends informed of their whereabouts and generate maps based on crime data that show the safest route home. Users could also access driver details if necessary. A study has found that 62% of people – women more than men – would be interested in using features like these, although their privacy flaws remain concerning.

Another strategy could be to design smaller and more local MaaS systems that foster a sense of community and trust. In Sweden, for example, carpooling is often used in residential estates and local neighbourhoods, where community and trust networks already exist.

Smaller, localised MaaS systems developed around pre-existing groups like these – where, crucially, sharers would be not total strangers – could help make users feel safer. But ultimately, we need to redress 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%.