Closing the micro‑mobility gender gap
Shari Shapiro, Head of Market Development at Lime, discusses the gender disparity in micro-mobility usage and explains how Lime is working to make women feel safer when travelling in cities and when using its e-bikes and e-scooters.
Fiona Forster told The Guardian in Summer 2021 that she “had never felt comfortable cycling on the busy roads near her home in St. Albans, but when the cars disappeared during lockdown last year, it opened up a whole new world.” Forster was one of several UK women that The Guardian interviewed who began cycling during lockdown because reductions in car traffic made it feel safer.
A Summer 2021 survey of Lime’s European riders revealed that men still outnumber women riders by 65 per cent to 35 per cent”
A Summer 2021 survey of Lime’s European riders revealed that men still outnumber women riders by 65 per cent to 35 per cent. This is not a surprise – men have made up a higher share of riders since scooter share services took off in 2018. From October 2020 to July 2021 in Europe, Lime saw a 10 per cent increase in riders identifying as female.
Meanwhile, a December 2020 study by the Ile De France revealed that women cyclists in Paris increased from 36 to 41 per cent after the implementation of COVID-19 pop-up bike lanes.1
The impact of the pandemic
Efforts by city policy makers across Europe to re-prioritise streets for people during the COVID-19 pandemic can help to explain this increase. Yet, as COVID-19 lockdowns end, cars return to the roads and people resume their pre-pandemic travel patterns, a return to ‘travel as usual’ threatens to erase the gains in women’s use of electric bikes and scooters.
Micro-mobility companies and cities need to be more responsive to the unique needs of women in order to retain and expand ridership gains”
Salvaging and growing these gains are crucial to increasing the adoption of shared, lighter-weight electric vehicles that make cities healthier and less car congested. It is why cities must continue expanding protected bike lane networks and make open streets permanent.
At the same time, micro-mobility companies and cities need to be more responsive to the unique needs of women in order to retain and expand the ridership gains made over the past two years and build on this momentum to encourage more women riders.
It starts with safety. Fiona Forster’s new-found sense of safety last year aligns with the sentiment of Lime users that we surveyed. Women were much more likely to cite safety concerns (lack of bike lanes, fast car traffic) as a barrier to their use of micro-mobility than men (16 per cent versus 10 per cent).
Women were much more likely to cite safety concerns as a barrier to their use of micro-mobility than men”
Gender and mobility expert Dr Ines Kawgan‑Kagan’s research highlights that feeling unsafe in the street, especially at night, influences whether women will make certain trips, go to particular locations and what mode of transportation they choose.
Dr. Kawgan-Kagan describes the case of ‘Lina’, a German woman who has good access to tram, bus, subway and biking, but takes a car because of safety. “For Lina, being [out] late at night somewhere feeling unsafe is not an issue, because she always goes by car, which gives her a safe feeling… Because she always wants to go by car, she selects her destinations according to the possibility of reaching it by car. In return, she stated that she would not go on the trip if it was not possible to take the car.”2
Partnering with SafeUP
To help women to feel safer on city streets, Lime recently announced a partnership with SafeUP, a community safety network aiming to foster safer environments for women in cities. When a woman feels unsafe, she can contact designated guardians through the SafeUP app for in-person assistance. Guardians consist of a worldwide community of women who have been trained to help and support women during the moments that they feel the most unsafe.
To help to ease connections between SafeUP Guardians and women in need, Lime is providing free rides on its scooters and bikes to verified SafeUP Guardians, and we’re encouraging our riders and staff to become SafeUP Guardians, adding to SafeUP’s network and improving the safety of women and girls in public spaces.
Rider training opportunities
We also found that it’s helpful to offer features and training opportunities to encourage women to try scooters. Our ‘Comfort Mode’ allows riders to reduce their top speed until they feel more confident, while our in-person ‘First Ride’ training events, hosted by our local teams, give new users one-on-one lessons in how to ride, with a protected course for trying out our scooters.
Differing travel patterns and priorities
Differences in travel patterns also appear to contribute to the gender disparity in micro‑mobility use”
Differences in travel patterns also appear to contribute to the gender disparity in micro‑mobility use. According to Dr. Kawgan-Kagan’s research: “Men travel longer distances with fewer destinations per day. Women, on the contrary, have more complex trip chains with more destination[s] with[in] a smaller mobility radius.”
Chaining several different stops is not practical if someone can hire your vehicle while you are in the pharmacy. At Lime, we built a reserve feature to help to tackle this challenge and facilitate multi‑stop trips.
Lime data also showed that women were a higher proportion of bicycle riders (43 per cent) than scooter riders (35 per cent), while a 2019 CoMoUK survey found a bike-share gender split of 58 per cent male compared to 40 per cent female3. It’s why offering a multimodal service is so important to serving everyone, and why we’re glad to see more companies following our lead. A step further would be to equip them with baskets to store belongings – another priority that women expressed across many surveys.
A seat at the table
Finally, women’s needs will not be given equal consideration without being at the decision-making table. According to a 2017 study by the European Commission (EC), just 22 per cent of employees in the mobility industry across Europe were female. At Lime, we’re proud that 50 per cent of our Executive Team and 50 per cent of Lime’s Board of Directors are women, which provides for additional perspectives and greater attention to the needs of female riders.
Ultimately, however, there is no substitute for safe, separated bike and scooter lanes. This is where government partnership is so crucial, especially at the city level. Government investments in safe places to ride – including protected bike lanes, open streets or bicycle highways – are key to increasing the female ridership gains that we’ve seen during the pandemic.
The potential benefits of increasing women’s ridership hold tremendous promise for the planet, and there is a significant opportunity cost in neglecting women’s micro-mobility needs. According to Dr Floridea di Ciommo, Lead Researcher on Travel Behaviour at the cambiaMO, Spain, “the sociological evidence shows that women are more oriented towards ecologically friendly behaviour, such as using public transport and eco-friendly modes of transport, than their male counterparts.”4
Creating a safe and inviting riding environment will encourage more women to experience the freedom and fun”
Women’s propensity for more sustainable modes could lead to proportionally more trips taken by bike and scooter than their male counterparts if their safety and potential use-cases were better accounted for. Indeed, shifting even a portion of women’s daily trips from cars to bikes and scooters could help to make cities safer, healthier and less congested, while advancing the ambitious carbon reduction goals that countries around the world just committed to at COP26.
Creating a safe and inviting riding environment will encourage more women to experience the freedom and fun that Fiona Forster discovered when she took to her bicycle during COVID-19. In the words of Frances Willard’s 1895 ‘How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle’: “She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.”
Shari Shapiro is Lime’s Head of Global Market Development, focused on expanding the company’s shared electric vehicles to cities worldwide. She is also responsible for all of Lime’s government procurements globally, including Requests For Proposals (RFPs), tenders and license applications.