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Today is International Womens Day. I'll ask the question "Is our public transport sexist?". This is important from both social inclusion and efficiency angles because transit works best when it serves a broad passenger base making a wide variety of trips across the day.
I'll split the question into two topics: 1. the relative representation of women and men in the transport power structure and 2. whether the services that run perpetuate or seek to counter existing gender inequalities. This post was inspired by this OECD International Transport Forum article on gender and transport choice.
Are women equally represented in the power structure governing transport?
If we take the top as meaning ministers and their parliamentary secretaries, Victoria's female representation couldn't be higher. In fact it's 100% amongst the minister and parliamentary secretary rank. More about the current minister for public transport here.
Lower down (but still in the senior ranks) there are more males. For example the departmental secretary and 3 out of 4 of the people that surround him are men. However the deputy secretary ranks in the Department of Transport are 50/50 male/female.
Female representation drops outside the department. For instance the bosses of major public operators such as Metro, V/Line and Yarra Trams are all men. 21% of senior managers at the operator level are women with a 5% increase noted from 2017. The Women in Transport program aims to increase that number.
It's mixed for key interest groups outside the department. Bicycle Network's board is 4 out of 6 female while Victoria Walk's representation is 4 out of 7 female. It's close to half with the RACV with its board having 5/11 female representation. Males dominate other bodies. For example the extremely influential Transurban has 3 out of 9 directors as female. Ditto for the Public Transport Users Association .
Does this matter? Somewhat. And not only for women aspiring to be leaders in transport who have a vested interest in higher female representation. If you want the best people in the top jobs then a large skew may mean you're locking out people of ability while protecting mediocre incumbents or applicants. And in a customer service industry like transport you'd want your senior people to have enough diversity of life experiences (including use of the network) to see problems with services and drive improvements.
On the other hand equal representation by itself isn't sufficient if the top brass are unable or unwilling to use the power or influence that comes with their position. Especially if the system suffers from inertia in service-shaping areas such as bus routes and train frequencies. System users don't care very much who runs the network. All they want is for it to meet their needs. Which gets us to the next, and more important, question.
Does the service as it currently runs disproportionately advantage or disadvantage women?
This question can be answered in different ways. You could express it as formal equality versus experienced equality. For example since men and women are subject to the same fares you could say that fares do not discriminate. But one could also say that they do due to the 14% gender pay gap.
Here are some examples where the current transit service and its environment may be disproportionately less favourable to women.
1. Timetables favour peak 9 am - 5 pm Monday - Friday travel. Waiting times on many routes increase outside peak periods despite patronage remaining high in some areas. Women are more likely to have casual or part time jobs and be highly represented in work like retail and hospitality. At least one of their commutes is likely to be outside peak times where waiting is likely to be longer, especially if connections are involved. Buses, with their typical 9pm curfew, often don't run when people need to start or finish. And due to low pay other forms of transport are expensive or impractical. Network service upgrades to resolve a lot of these issues are relatively cheap (mostly working the existing bus and train fleet harder) but the current government seems to give more airtime to silly flying taxi schemes that will only ever serve an elite. More on making our network more job ready here.
2. Personal security. Women often feel less safe travelling at night on public transport than men. Walking safely alone any time anywhere is a human right but might not be fully supported by police and others. Having to restrict movement on safety risk grounds may mean a night job not applied for or education missed. That is a denial of an opportunity that a man might take without second thought.
Having PSOs at train stations may have helped. However current attitudes to service provision and network connectivity keep passengers waiting at night longer than they should be. For example Melbourne has the least frequent evening trains of any comparable city in the developed world. Even Sydney typically gets evening trains every 15 minutes versus our 30 minute waits.
Police sometimes recommend planning your travel by consulting timetables. However one can't always choose one's departure and infrequent service makes some waits unavoidable. This is particularly so with connections given that bus frequencies do not necessarily mesh with train services, causing varying and sometimes long waits. Staff in boxes rather than out there and prominent, poor sight-lines, limited lighting in the streets around stations and design that surrounds stations with car parks rather than active uses are other contributing factors.
To the extent that these service and network characteristics make women less likely to travel then men the way we have chosen to allocate service resources could be considered to be sexist, particularly if it reduces female take-up of potential evening work or educational opportunities. The PTUA is planning to make advocating for improvements here a major focus this year.
3. Declining reliability. Melbourne's trains have got less reliable in the last few years. Targets have rarely been met in the last year or so. Even a relatively minor ten minute train delay can cause half-hour hold-ups given widespread 30 to 40 minute feeder bus frequencies.
Poor reliability affects both men and women passengers. However women are more likely to have primary family responsibilities. Extortionate child care late fees can mean that parents cop high monetary as well as time penalties for using unreliable public transport. Monthly compensation for unreliable service exists but the amount offered (a daily fare) is meagre and unavailable to part-time or casual workers using myki money. To summarise the more complex multi-leg journeys that women often make most require reliable service. While other factors apply, Track Record statistics over the last fifteen years show that metropolitan train reliability has tended to deteriorate under Labor governments (Bracks, Brumby, Andrews) and improve under the one Liberal government (Baillieu) that governed in that period.
4. Design of some trains and handholds. Women are on average shorter than men. Thus more would be affected by carriage designs that have insufficient hand-holds at a height they can reach. That can increase the risk of falls when trains stop or go over rough, poorly-maintained track.
5. Peak trips dearest to provide but passengers pay least. By far the most expensive passenger trip to provide is a peak period trip, especially if existing services are full and new trains need to be bought and lines built. However the fare system is skewed so that full-timers in stable employment pay the least and part-timers in casual jobs pay the most. How? See the fare schedule below.
A casual or part-time worker (who is more likely to be a woman) working say 3 days per week pays $9.00 per day on weekdays for daily travel. Or $6.50 per day on weekends and public holidays. This is is with myki money - the fare option best for those with variable travel patterns. Meanwhile those with more settled 5-day per week job patterns (ie more likely full-time and not casual) pay lower myki pass daily rates, especially if they can afford the 28 - 325 day option (the latter of which extends to 365 days).
Melbourne has the train-only Early Bird (used by the mostly male high-vis crowd), weekend discounts (some trips) and the after 6pm bonus. However, unlike other cities we don't have cheaper interpeak weekday fares. Such discounts would make sense as it encourages those who can to shift their travel to off-peak times, relieving the peak crush, encouraging midday utilisation and saving some people money.
The combination of generous myki pass discounts with no off-peak myki money discounts makes travel relatively cheap for those who cost the system more (eg peak users in steady jobs) and relatively more expensive for those who cost the system least (eg off-peak users in casual jobs). This is both bad economics and distributionally regressive.
6. The system is hostile for those with luggage or prams. Crowding, including that induced by the CBD 'free tram zone' is bad news for those with luggage or prams. It can often mean they cannot board the tram they need and may have to wait for one less crowded. Fare gates or barriers can also be awkward to be negotiate compared to a more open German-style system .
Those who need to carry more tend to have more complex travel patterns, manual jobs where they need to take things or family caring responsibilities. Or they may be homeless. Women are highly represented in at least the first three groups.
7. Mum's taxi working overtime. Families with children are predominantly found in Melbourne's outer suburbs. Inner suburbs have many young adults while middle suburbs are often ageing. While there is some trend towards more children in gentrifying inner and some middle suburbs, they are often the privileged offspring of a high-income minority.
So the main game, when transporting children is concerned, remains the outer suburbs. In such places "Mum's taxi" rules the road. Outer suburbs having a cult of building just a few large facilities rather than more smaller ones that many more people can walk to. As an example the outer City of Melton has just two public libraries for its 150 000 people versus the inner City of Yarra with five for a smaller, denser population.
Schools have similar trends, again due to the tendency towards large and more widely spaced facilities and the decline of localism due to the rise of sectarian, private and out-of-area schooling. Then there are after school and weekend extra-curricular activities and, when children get older, part-time jobs. A night out in the city may require a phone home for a collection from the station as the buses have stopped.
The unsuitability of local buses for many trips, due to limited operating hours and frequencies make children and young adults without cars excessively dependent on parents for mobility. The mother particularly picks up this job, particularly in single parent households. And like paid taxi-type services this contributes doubly to traffic congestion due to the 'dead run' trip to collect. In contrast a bus (say) every 20 minutes connecting with arriving trains would save the parent the need to collect, foster travel independence amongst children and encourage a habit of transit riding as adults.
Outer suburban buses isn't just about transporting children below driving age or who don't have cars. There isn't yet the full official realisation that outer suburbs aren't what they used to be - ie sparsely populated and heavily car-owning. Some of today's fringe suburbs are quite densely populated and significant number of households where not all adults own a car. Women from some cultures have a lower tendency to drive than men. And local buses are crowded with demand for more services.
Current state transport policy settings, which starve service and feed infrastructure, in conjunction with high population growth, are leading to more and more people having relatively less and less service. And, on a smaller scale, the unwillingness to review local bus networks in must suburbs and address cases of over and under servicing is leading to stagnating patronage and reduced access to opportunity.
A vision from US https://twitter.com/TransitCenter/status/1231990313339805697
Parents and caregivers face a host of barriers when riding transit with children. It doesn't have to be this way.
In our new video, Christine Serdjenian-Yearwood of @UPSTANDMovement imagines a transit system that works for parents and kids:https://t.co/3HfSDhd2re pic.twitter.com/AtG8lQ6hVU
— TransitCenter (@TransitCenter) February 24, 2020
Instances where women may be disproportionately affected by (mainly) service-related issues have been mentioned. However service improvement is far more than being a 'womens issue'. 40% or more of the beneficiaries of service upgrades, for instance, could well be male. Hence improvements are best considered a wider community win rather than just for women. This illustrates the point that the most heavily used and cost-effective public transport networks tend to be useful for a wide range of trips by a broad cross-section of society.
There is an interaction between gender and class in most of the above points. On several, especially to do with service quality, the network discriminates far more by postcode than gender. Given the link between location and socio-economic status, the argument could be put that the network is more classist than sexist. More on that in a future post.
In the meantime your feedback would be appreciated in the comments section below. Is our network sexist? Is this fair? What changes would be desirable?
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This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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