New Approach Could Help Cities Address Gender Equity in Transportation Plans

Humphrey School graduate finds women use transportation differently than men, but their needs are ignored
November 2, 2020
Woman holds a small child on the sidewalk outside a Metro Transit bus
"Gender is an important factor to consider in transportation planning and policy, but many
planning processes do not explicitly address gender issues," says Humphrey School alumna
Ania McDonnell (MPP '20) in her master's thesis. Photo: Metro Transit

Women often have different transportation needs, and face different transportation challenges, than men.

Women frequently have personal security concerns in dark or deserted transit areas, need to make multiple short stops as part of their commutes, and travel during off-peak hours for part-time jobs such as those in the caregiving sector.

However, these disparities are largely unaddressed in transportation plans and policies, and specifically in comprehensive city plans.

For her master’s degree thesis, Humphrey School of Public Affairs graduate Ania McDonnell studied gender disparities in transportation and crafted recommendations for cities—some that could be used now.

“We know gender is an important factor to consider in transportation planning and policy, but many planning processes do not explicitly address gender issues,” says McDonnell, who earned her Master of Public Policy degree in May. She is now a policy analyst with Flaherty and Hood in St. Paul. (Her paper advisor was Frank Douma, director of the State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey School.)

Head shot of Ania McDonnell
Ania McDonnell (MPP '20)

In her review of previous research, McDonnell found that a number of factors contribute to transportation disparities among different groups of people. For example, women generally take on a greater share of household tasks and care-related travel, which often results in the need for “trip chaining.” Also, many women hold part-time jobs, especially in the caregiving sector, and may need to take transit in non-peak hours.

For her analysis, McDonnell selected four cities in the Twin Cities metro area—Minneapolis, Bloomington, Little Canada, and Centerville—and assessed how their 2040 comprehensive plans address gender and transportation disparities. Local governments in the metro area are required to create these plans every 10 years for the Metropolitan Council.

“City comprehensive plans are good measures because they are a forward-looking snapshot at the goals and aims of a city,” McDonnell says.

Her analysis included a word search of gender disparity-related terms in the city plans, with words such as safety, mobility, accessibility, gender, woman, binary, childcare, and lighting. The terms were then matched with policies within the comprehensive plans to determine how the plans address, or do not address, gender disparities.

“My analysis found some strong policies—for example, Bloomington encourages transit providers to establish reverse commute service—while other policies were broad, vague, and in need of refinement,” she says. “In addition, none of the plans include the term ‘gender’ at all, pointing to a lack of gender considerations.”

Based on the findings, McDonnell then crafted six recommendations for cities:

  • Collect city-level transportation data that is disaggregated by gender.
  • Perform a gender and equity review of comprehensive plans before releasing them for public comment.
  • Provide transportation vouchers—such as taxi vouchers or vanpool reimbursements—to women or individuals in caregiving roles who are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
  • Partner with transit agencies to allow “night stops” in which a person can ask the bus driver to pull over between stops; the driver would only open the front door to ensure no one follows the person off the bus.
  • Connect school, daycare, and workplace land use through zoning and tax incentives.
  • Prioritize tax incentives for employers to create transportation service between high-unemployment neighborhoods and areas of employment.

“These policies are just the tip of the iceberg,” McDonnell says. “Ultimately, I’d like to see cities add expertise in identifying and addressing gender and other demographic disparities—to help plan and deploy a more welcoming transportation system.”

McDonnell presented her research at a June meeting of the Minnesota Gender and Transportation Research Collaborative, an advisory group that she and Douma convened to identify and promote research related to gender and equity in transportation. The collaborative is working with University researchers and other organizations in these efforts.

This story was originally published in the Catalyst newsletter from the Center for Transportation Studies