We now have information about the impacts on women of public transit—both positive and negative. The short version? Women use transit more than men and rely on it as an essential service. All while providing essential work across the country. When women are in positions of leadership in transit and transportation, they improve user experience, advance climate goals, and improve company performance. But the field is dominated by men who don’t rely on transit—and never have.
A report conducted in Vancouver title Metro Vancouver Women Changing Public Transit is a worthwhile read. Two findings of note: migrant and racialized women find the cost of transit a barrier to both finding and maintaining work, and senior women are negatively impacted by the lack of public washrooms at transit stations. Only women who use wheelchairs as a mobility aid felt that their demands for changes were heard. This is directly related to advocacy and activism efforts that have been ongoing since the 1980s.
According to Statistics Canada, many more women rely on public transit as their main mode of commuting than men. These women make up a large portion of Canada’s frontline workers, and public transit is the only way they can get to and from their jobs. They also require transportation for domestic responsibilities (much higher for women) and accessing childcare. The Women and Changing Public Services in Ottawa report echoed these findings.
Women are the primary users of public transit. Logic would suggest that the key decision-makers in transportation should proportionately represent those that use the system. But this is not the case.
Advancements for Women in Transit Leadership?
Canada is making some progress with women holding leadership positions in transportation. We’ve had two women serve as federal ministers responsible for public transit (out of 62). As of January 2022, the cabinet ministers for Finance, Defence, and Foreign Affairs are women. We also have a woman as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. And we have the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canada’s history.
However, the federal Minister of Transport is a man, and less than half of the provincial ministers of transportation are women.
What about the corporate world? Under 10% of Canadian transit CEOs are women. This is a sobering statistic. It’s worse when we realize that the majority of university graduating classes are women. And the disparity is even higher when we look at minority women.
Within the industry, trade publications, transit reporters, and columnists are mainly white men. These are men who are significantly less likely to actually use any sort of public transit. And yet their opinions and advice are dominating conversations across Canada.
We are long overdue to have women in place making the policies and legislation about transportation and transit in Canada, running the organizations that provide public transit services, and in places of power to advocate for the needs of all women.
When women make the decisions about transportation, they are more likely to focus on the actual needs of transit riders, and the broader (but no less important) need to move quickly to emissions-free public transportation.
Having women in transit leadership does more than meet transit user’s needs and move transit agencies towards crucial climate goals. The Conference Board of Canada notes the many business advantages of having women on boards: financial performance, attracting and retaining top talent, and increased innovation.
The climate, transit agencies, and transit users can’t afford to add women to leadership positions in tiny increments. We need to make bold moves to bring women into their much-needed positions of leadership in transit and transportation.
Women Making a Difference in Transit
Fortunately, we have some good news! TransitRewards.ca is a women-created, women-led agency that is building opportunities to reward people for riding public transit across Canada.
Alongside the individual perks, the agency is also providing solutions for public transit agencies and opportunities for retailers located along transit corridors.
Is rewarding transit riders—particularly women—really that big of a deal? Absolutely! Rewarding transit riders gives them a financial benefit for performing the social act of taking public transit. Whether women must use public transit because they have no other options, or choose to use public transit because of the environmental benefits, they benefit from the rewards.
Money might not buy happiness, but it does by freedom for many women. This is even more so for the women who need public transit to get to and from their jobs, complete domestic duties, and access childcare.
We challenge you to look at what TransitRewards is doing and see where the benefits lie for riders, public transit agencies, and retailers.