Rethinking ride sharing services to better incorporate women into the workforce

Aapti Institute
Oct 4, 2019 · 4 min read

Aditi Ramesh

Rapid urbanization in India calls for a greater focus around mobility and transportation in major metropolitan cities. The Ola Mobility Institute (OMI), a think-tank focused on exploring the intersection of mobility and public good, conducted a study in 2018 to understand women’s travel preferences and expectations from urban transportation systems, with an aim to make recommendations to future urban mobility surveys. OMI is thinking about how to better design public systems to be more accessible and inclusive, as a framework to reimagine policy decisions and design criteria around sustainable forms of transportation.

In the last five years, female unemployment rates across India have been rising. The McKinsey Global Institute found that women contributed just 17 percent to national GDP, less than half of the global average of 37 percent. MGI also highlighted that females in urban spaces in India are most commonly employed in textile manufacturing, agriculture, education, and retail trade. However, when looking at working preferences for women, over 75 percent of women noted that they prefer regular part-time work — noting female preferences for a flexible yet regular work schedule.

These demographic trends, along with OMI’s study, highlights a huge gap in an understanding of how females interact with urban transportation systems — specifically around how women can feel more safe, secure, and mobile on ride sharing platforms. Given the knowledge of female expectations from urban mobility systems, it is imperative to think about how ride sharing technology can be better designed to address these concerns while also employing females as drivers on platforms.

Before thinking about how to design solutions for female driven ride sharing technology, it’s important to first understand demographic trends and female preferences for mobility in urban spaces. OMI’s mobility survey showed that ~40% of women in both Delhi and Bangalore preferred taxi or cab as their primary mode of transportation, as opposed to bus, metro, bike, etc. This, coupled with the fact that women in metropolitan cities across India are mobile (over 50% of respondents reported traveling between 30–60 minutes a day), showcases the potential for strong support of ride sharing design where women feel safest traveling with other women.

The survey also provides crucial insights into understanding how ride hailing technology may need to adapt based on key demographic differences even within urban cities. Between Delhi and Bangalore, survey data highlighted differences in the current employment status of urban women, which has implications for the availability of both drivers and riders in these cities. There could be a larger market opportunity to onboard female drivers in a city like Bangalore, which could therefore serve as a better city to pilot solutions for female driven ride sharing services.

Technology, armed with this data, can enable the entry of women into the workforce to address top concerns around mobility and transportation systems for females: safety, comfort, and access. For example, it is important to explore ride-sharing services that can employ females as drivers of alternative vehicles (autorickshaws, bikes, etc.). There is greater physical intimacy shared on a bike ride so a female passenger may feel safer with a female driver on a bike. OMI’s study noted that 57.5% of female respondents in Delhi owned a two-wheeler. As bikes below 60cc do not require a license so it may be easier for women to enter on the platform as bike or scooter drivers.

Concerns around safety can be addressed through solutions that provide females with greater autonomy in the system. Solutions could include car companies creating parking lots across the city, with geo-tagged vehicles. Women drivers, through specifically designed or repurposed interfaces, will be able to find these parking lots, and use their unique IDs or smart cards, to unlock the cabs, and get online, and be visible to passengers. This system will provide women drivers flexibility to choose pick up and drop locations, avoid the financial burden of buying a new vehicle, and offer flexibility in work.

Incorporating female drivers onto ride sharing platforms, more broadly, has the potential to further social and environmental agendas. OMI’s study highlights that women in urban cities understand the critical importance of environmentally-friendly transportation. In both Delhi and Bangalore, 97% of female respondents stated that it was important for their transport to be environmentally friendly (unsurprisingly, as one-third of EVs sold in 2017 were in Delhi.) Given the concern female respondents have around sustainable methods of transportation and the general public worry over the rise of GHG emissions, females could be a strong advocate for getting EVs (either vehicles or bikes) onto ride hailing platforms.

OMI’s study is a crucial first step to better understanding how females can redefine urban mobility. It is critical to design this technology to better address concerns of safety, poor financial access, and gendered stereotypes. Including women as drivers on the ride hailing economy needs to be tackled by restructuring social and policy architecture, but has great potential to decrease female unemployment rates, strengthen social infrastructure, and address prominent concerns around mobility.

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