We are testing a new beta website for gov.scot go to new site

Women and Transport: Moving Forward - Research Findings

DescriptionThe Scottish Executive commissioned research to explore women's experiences of transport use in Scotland.
ISBN1 84268 093 5
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateNovember 29, 2000
Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No. 98Women and Transport: Moving Forward

Sheila Henderson, Reid-Howie Associates

As the government's work on mainstreaming and social inclusion has developed, the need to identify and better understand the service requirements of specific groups, including women, has been recognised. Reid Howie Associates Ltd was commissioned by The Scottish Executive in August 1999 to explore women's experiences of transport use in Scotland. From these findings, draft guidance in the form of a checklist has been developed to ensure that central and local government policy makers and transport operators take account of the needs of women in Scotland in developing and implementing their transport policies and services.

Main Findings

  • The research confirmed that there are important gender differences in travel patterns in Scotland. Women, particularly older women, have less access to cars and are more likely to rely on public transport, particularly buses.

  • Women in Scotland are constrained in their use of public transport by a range of barriers in a system which has not been planned and delivered to take account of their requirements. These barriers relate to safety and comfort, physical access, timing and routes, cost, information and a lack of consultation with women.

  • These restrictions exclude women from full participation in economic and social life. Nearly half of the individual women surveyed felt restricted by transport in visiting friends and relatives, nearly 40% in when and where they could work and 37% in when and where they could study.

  • 73% of individual women surveyed felt restricted to some extent by the timing of public transport services, 70% by routes and 67% by safety issues at night. More than 50% of women were affected by both the lack of information and the cost of fares.

  • Some groups of women encounter specific difficulties. 76% of disabled women felt constrained by the lack of accessibility of services. Women in the lowest income band were more likely to feel restricted than women in higher income groups on almost all indicators. Lone parents were almost three times as likely to feel restricted by the lack of facilities for children than any other group. Women in rural / island areas highlighted the lack of public transport services. Older women, women on peripheral estates, women from ethnic minorities and unemployed women all faced particular problems with transport provision.

  • Many transport providers appear to have a limited understanding of the issues affecting women, with few initiatives to improve services for women and few plans to address the issues in the future. Some providers are unaware of any issues affecting women.

  • The research clearly identifies scope for improvement in many aspects of public transport provision and its findings form the basis of the development of a draft checklist and guidance for policy makers to assess the sensitivity of their policies and practices to women's needs.


Prior to the late 1980s, transport policy and practice largely failed to take account of gender differences in the way women and men travel, and what women, the main users of public transport, needed from the transport system. Transport policy tended therefore to base much of its development on the requirements of men.

It has now been recognised that the issues facing women when travelling, their experiences of public transport and their transport priorities clearly differ from those of men and that these needs must be taken into account in the future development of transport policy and provision. However, although there now exists information on the different ways in which women and men travel, the modes of transport they use and the nature of their journeys, there was seen to be a need for further information relating to the constraints and barriers which women face, and the consequent effects upon their lives.

The 1998 Transport White Paper in Scotland recognised that there is a specific transport policy context for women, and recent guidance from the Scottish Executive on the Integrated Transport Bill requires gender auditing to be carried out. A range of research has also been undertaken in the last few years on specific aspects of women's travel, and most travel data sources now collect (although often do not publish) gender-specific information.

There still remain however, areas in which evidence and understanding are limited. This research was therefore commissioned to explore these issues, from the starting point that there was a need to identify the transport issues affecting women in Scotland and to use the information to develop inclusive transport policies in the future.


The research was carried out from July 1999 to May 2000, using a number of complementary methods. The main focus of the work was on a large scale consultation exercise to identify the transport issues facing women in Scotland.

Evidence on women's transport issues was obtained from a review of current literature, from which a short paper was produced. This paper was then circulated to over 500 key organisations, including, for example, local authorities (equalities and transport staff), Strathclyde Passenger Transport, the Scottish Consumer Council and transport user groups, groups which were members of the Scottish Women's Forum, voluntary organisations dealing specifically with transport issues, authority-wide women's networks and specific women's projects (which also acted as points of distribution for the wider survey). A short questionnaire was included with the paper, covering a detailed set of issues derived from the literature review. From all of these sources, a total of 122 detailed responses were received.

A postal survey was also developed, with a short freepost questionnaire, which was completed by over 1500 individual women. Thirteen focus groups were held throughout the country to gather qualitative information, a web site was developed (with 380 visits made), 19 women completed travel diaries and individual women were invited to submit additional observations / information.

A limited survey of local authorities and selected larger transport providers was also carried out to identify aspects of good practice and any initiatives which had been undertaken, as well as to provide a snapshot of the views of providers.

From all of these sources, the main issues were identified. These allowed the development of a "checklist" and guidance to assist in addressing the barriers to women's travel in future policy design.

Gender differences in travel patterns

In the UK, the travel patterns of women and men vary greatly. Overall, women and men make around the same number of trips each year but there are differences in the length of trips, the forms of transport used, and the complexity and purpose of trips. There are also differences in the ways in which women in different geographical, economic and social situations, and women of different ages, use transport.

Women tend to travel far shorter distances than men and have much less access to cars. Fewer women than men have driving licences and women travel less in relation to their employment. They are more likely to work close to home and walk to work. They are more likely than men to travel by public transport, as car passengers and on foot and their trips are more likely to relate to caring / family responsibilities. Women make more trips to and from education than men (including escorting children), more shopping trips and make more journeys "encumbered". Women's journeys are more likely to involve a range of forms of transport.

There are also variations in travel patterns between different groups of women. Women over 70, for example, make fewer journeys than younger women, are less likely to have a driving licence and more likely to use public transport and walk. Women on lower incomes travel shorter distances and have less access to a car than other women. Many disabled women are unable to use public transport in its current form. Women in rural areas have access to more limited public transport services and rely more heavily on car travel, and the impact of not having access to a car is greater in these areas.

A range of other factors also affect women's travel, and these relate to socio-economic issues (e.g. employment patterns, income and care responsibilities), technological changes (e.g. environment and design issues) and barriers to women's transport use (e.g. personal safety, information and timetabling) all of which affect their access to, and experience of, transport.

Constraints on women's transport use

The findings from the research suggest that the system of transport which is provided in Scotland imposes a range of restrictions on women's mobility and accessibility and hence participation in economic and social life. A number of key constraints are highlighted in the research.

Safety was identified as a major constraint, particularly at night. Comfort was linked to this and physical access to transport was a key issue, particularly for disabled women and for women travelling with children. The timing and routes of services were identified as another constraint, particularly in terms of the provision of evening and early morning services. The cost of using transport and the links between this issue and the levels of women's income were also highlighted, as was information, in terms of its clarity and accessibility. Finally, the lack of consultation with women was seen to be an overall constraint, affecting the development of relevant policy and provision of transport, and the development of understanding and awareness amongst staff.

Specific groups were found to experience particular constraints in their use of transport, including women in rural areas, women on peripheral estates, women from ethnic minorities, disabled women, older women, homeless women, unemployed women, women experiencing domestic abuse, lone parents and others.

In the short survey of transport providers, it was found that generally, despite some examples of good practice, only a small number of the operators surveyed had initiated improvements for women. Few specific or systematic future plans had been made to address these issues, and although some identified the need for action, the level of priority afforded to this was clearly varied.

Women's needs and priorities

Women in the postal survey were asked to indicate the level of priority that should be given to each of 32 issues developed from the literature review. The top 10 priorities for improvement that were rated highest by women were as follows:

  • More accessible timetables
  • Better street lighting
  • More evening bus and rail services
  • More police in towns
  • Clearer timetables
  • CCTV in stations
  • More consultations with women
  • Police travelling on vehicles
  • More routes in rural areas
  • CCTV on vehicles

When women were asked to choose three issues to which they would give the highest priority. The main choices that emerged related to information, safety and routes, with the addition of lower fares for adults, reflecting the needs of lower income groups and women dependent on frequent use of public transport.

Recommendations for the future

The research findings suggest a number of areas for improvement in transport provision to better meet the needs of women.

  • Improvements to safety and comfort include traffic reduction, taxi regulation, surveillance measures / additional staff, better lighting, access to assistance, reduced vandalism, safe car parking and the provision of clean, safe and comfortable facilities.

  • Improvements to physical access (to transport vehicles and infrastructure) include more low floor buses and the extension of low floor services, consistent provision of lifts and ramps, improvements to roads and pavements, storage space for luggage / buggies on vehicles and the provision and regulation of parking for orange badge holders and in residential areas.

  • The provision of more frequent services and improvements to evening / Sunday services and services to specific areas (e.g. rural areas, housing areas and small towns). The need for integrated transport, routes consistent with women's employment and punctual, flexible and reliable services is also highlighted.

  • Lower fares and reduced costs for taxis, parking charges and petrol , as well as the development of concessionary travel schemes, initiatives such as travel passes, off peak reductions and other options for women on low incomes (and, where relevant, their companions) and the provision of integrated / through ticketing.

  • Accessible, reliable, up to date and clear timetables and the provision of national information; the information should be in a range of formats and should be distributed at places relevant to women. There is also seen to be a need for increased information about specific issues such as fares, accessibility, routes and safety.

  • Consultation with women and the involvement of a range of women in all aspects of transport development. This should include strategic and practical issues. It should also include both proactive consultation using a range of methods, and the development and publication of complaints mechanisms, as well as the provision of appropriate training to transport staff.

The report recommends that service providers should use the information and the priorities for change to identify and address elements of their own services, which currently present barriers for women. It is recommended that they should take steps to implement the changes which have been identified and should recognise the benefits of the provision of fully inclusive services.

Drawing on the research findings the consultants developed a checklist designed to ensure that the process of developing transport policy, its implementation and the services provided take full account of the needs of women in Scotland.

In relation to broader developments in equalities work, it is also suggested that the methods used here should be considered in developing mainstreaming work, as the general principles can be applied more widely. The findings can also be used to link to other areas of policy (e.g. housing, violence against women, employment issues etc) and to identify where changes can complement each other to combat social exclusion.


The research shows that women are a key group of current and potential public transport users who experience a number of barriers to their travel. Improvements to the provision of transport to meet their requirements must be the main focus of work in the future for the many women who are unable to drive, do not have access to a car or who, potentially, would choose to use public transport if this were provided in an appropriate way. It is considered likely that improvements to public transport provision would increase women's use, and this has implications both for providers' revenue and in the development of sustainable transport in the future. There are clear benefits to both providers and users in developing public transport which can be used by all members of the community.

If you wish further copies of this Research Findings or have any enquiries about the work of the Central Research Unit, please contact us at:

Scottish Executive Central Research Unit
Victoria Quay
Tel: 0131-244 7560, or
Email: cru.admin@scotland.gov.uk
Web site: www.scotland.gov.uk/cru

If you wish a copy of 'Women and Transport: Moving Forward' the research report which is summarised in this research finding, please send a cheque for £7.00 made payable to The Stationery Office to:

The Stationery Office Bookshop
71 Lothian Road
Tel 0870 606 5566
Fax 0870 606 5588

This document (and other CRU Research Findings and Reports) and information about the work of CRU may be viewed on the Internet at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/cru/

The site carries up-to-date information about social and policy research commissioned and published by CRU on behalf of the Scottish Executive. Subjects covered include transport, housing, social inclusion, rural affairs, children and young people, education, social work, community care, local government, civil justice, crime and criminal justice, regeneration, planning and women's issues. The site also allows access to information about the Scottish Household Survey.