Pink tax: a mobility challenge for women

Mother and daughter leaving a building

The “pink tax” is a term used to describe how women are typically charged more for goods and services than men. The phenomenon has been observed in many countries around the world, with different reasons for its existence such as cultural norms, economic constraints, and government policies. Indeed, gender-based price discrimination has been the focus of attention for many years. 

Research has shown that this affects everyday items such as personal care, clothing, toys and senior healthcare products, with women’s products costing seven per cent more than men’s on average. But it doesn’t stop there. A new study also shows that women pay more for buying and selling a home and car ownership. Up to $37,000 more. It would seem these pricing discrepancies are everywhere – and they also extend to mobility.

Pink tax in transportation

One of the main reasons for this gender based transportation cost difference is that the travel patterns of women and men differ. A major study by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) – titled “Understanding How Women Travel” – found that females in LA make more trips than their male counterparts and those trips tend to be shorter. They consist of multiple stops and destinations, more midday travel and fewer single occupancy car journeys.

Men tend to have more direct commutes from home to work whereas women often carry out multiple tasks during a trip: dropping off children at school or taking them to after-school activities, running errands, taking elderly relatives for appointments, and going to work (which is often part-time). 

A recent study, The Pink Tax on Mobility: Opportunities for Innovation, showed that approximately 61 per cent of caregivers are women. Navigating transport systems with pushchairs, wheelchairs or shopping is difficult. Sarah Kaufman of the New York University Rudin Center for Transportation, who helped to prepare the study, commented in an interview with Smart Cities Drive, that ‘fare gates and turnstiles often aren’t wide enough to accommodate these mobility devices. Train stations frequently lack working elevators. Bike shares and ride-hail vehicles are absent child seats’. Transport operators tend not to account for different needs of women, especially carers, when designing products or services. 

The study also highlighted safety as a major concern with many women experiencing harassment. It stated that: “Women are three times as likely to be concerned for their safety on shared modes of transit, and as a result, choose longer, more costly, or less efficient transportation options.” This may impact the pocket and harm global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but women currently are left with little choice.

Gender-informed policies

Oxfam calculates that women’s unpaid labour is worth $10.8tn globally (three times the size of the world’s tech industry). Given their contribution and the fact women make up nearly half the global population, their travel needs should be taken into account when planning transport systems and infrastructure. 

One organisation looking to bring about change is Mobility XX, which highlights that women make up only 15% of the 14.8m workforce and are very much underrepresented – even more so at board level. A partnership between ITS America, The Ray and WTS International, Mobility XX looks to increase the number of women in transport by 10 per cent over the next decade. 

Likewise, Women in Transport in the UK has a similar purpose; it looks to maximise the potential of women and the unique and valuable perspective they bring to the industry. At SkedGo, we interviewed several women who work in transport and are incredibly passionate about the sector. They are championing new ideas, bringing new energy to mobility and encouraging more women to consider careers in the sector. (You can read their stories in our Women in MaaS series.) 

It’s important now more than ever that our transport policies are informed by the needs of women. This has benefits on many levels as the World Economic Forum (WEF) points out. Firstly, it impacts women’s access to education and employment opportunities, and hence economic growth. Secondly, it supports the move towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The WEF estimates that gender parity would entice more than an extra 20 million women to work in the transport sector.  

More female decision-makers within companies and governments who have the authority to make decisions on transportation spend are necessary. For instance, shared mobility needs to be adapted for family journeys: not everyone is travelling solo. Transport, station, and hub redesign need to account for everything from better lighting to general accessibility. It’s only through putting the right policies in place that these can become reality. 

Diversity matters

At the heart of all of this is the broader topic of diversity in the transport sector. It requires the right initiatives to be put in place to attract more women and diverse people into the sector (including board level), as well as more conversations with a variety of passengers to better understand different requirements. After all, diverse and gender-responsive policies and transport design aren’t just nice to have – they are essential.

TUMI’s 5 Principles to Empower Women in Transport is an excellent summary of what needs to take place – and is useful for widening the conversation further. Full diversity means being open to more voices including people with limited mobility and underrepresented communities as we all stand to benefit from their experiences. It’s only by focusing on a truly inclusive and user-centric approach that we will ever have a mobility system that works for everyone.

Title image by Kamaji Ogino via Pexels