Confronting the bike-sharing gender gap with data
A new data-driven research project studying how, where, and when women use Oslo City Bike may help make our system more inclusive.
Data Science Team Lead Hans Martin Espegren has spent the last year co-authoring a new study set to be published this spring titled, “The Gendered Dimension of Multi Mobility: Exploring the Bike Sharing Scheme in Oslo.” To conduct this study, we teamed up with the Institute of Transport Economics (TØI). We wanted to understand better how a user’s gender affects how often they use one of our bikes in Oslo. We could then use these patterns to develop new tools to adapt our system design, and ultimately make bike sharing more equal.
For this study, we analyzed 3.9 million Oslo City Bike trips between 2016 and 2017, as well as data gathered through 8,500 survey responses. Here’s what we found:
Women, on average, ride less than men
Unfortunately this wasn’t a surprise, as this pattern in usage reflects a worldwide phenomenon. CitiBike in New York City, which is the largest bike sharing scheme in the United States, reported that as of April 2017, women accounted for only 33% of its members. Meanwhile, recent official statistics from the U.K show that men make up 74% of those who commute to work by bicycle. This means that commuting men in the UK outnumber female bike commuters by a ratio of three to one.
In our own research, we found that among active members — our users who took more than one trip in 2017–41% were women, while only 32% of all trips in 2017 were undertaken by women. In the same year an average man took 39 trips in Oslo, while an average woman took 26 trips. We found this gender disparity in both bike-sharing schemes and in private cycling.
More stations are needed in the areas where women travel
Our study found a strong relationship between spatial distribution of Oslo City Bike’s stations and where women tend to ride their city bikes. Specifically, we found a strong correlation between biking routes dominated by women and areas of the city with a high concentration of female employment.
This shows that many women have integrated biking into their daily travel to and from work. The trip routes with the highest popularity among women were between stations in residential areas, and stations near workplaces with a high percentage of female employees, such as Ullevål Hospital and Tannlegehøyskolen.
Twenty-nine percent more women than men started their daily trips in an area including Blindern and Ullevål, which is home to both a hospital and Oslo’s largest university. However, thirteen percent more men than women started their trip at a station in or near the city center.
Our data suggests that men are overrepresented in the city center, where more men tend to work, while women used bikes more in areas of high female employment like the north and west of Oslo. In other words, data models that rebalance simply based on overall bike usage may not equally represent the needs of each gender.
Women want more bike paths and more available parking slots
In our survey, more women than men — twenty four percent versus eighteen percent — said that they would like to see more designated bike paths in the city. We anticipate this may become a reality soon, as Oslo continues to convert car parking spaces into bike lanes in an effort to make the city center car-fee.
When asked how the city bike system could be improved, fifty-four percent of women and forty-five percent of men answered that they would like to see more available parking spots in our docking stations. This can be interpreted to reflect our past model which prioritized docking stations in the city center, and therefore, inadvertently, prioritized men.
Oslo has among the highest public transportation usage rates in the world. Still, if we increase our bike supply in underserved areas which are traditionally dominated by women, there is a strong potential for us to greatly impact travel behavior throughout Oslo.
Currently, Oslo’s transportation networks, including city bikes, have been built for, and continue to target, the city’s male-dominated employment sectors. We now have the data to better meet the needs of our female users.
We are now in the process of adapting our operational model to provide more bikes and more ample bike parking in areas where women tend to start and end their trips most often. We have shared our data with other players involved in city planning and public transportation so that they, too, can use this knowledge to improve access to other modes of transit. A better awareness of female-dominated routes will lead to a better bike-sharing service overall.
Using open data to better society
“In the Nordics, we have a long tradition of open data,” says Espegren.“We share anonymized data from all of our bike sharing systems publicly, so that city officials, academics, and other interested parties can learn more about how people move through the urban landscape.”
This study is another example of how applying data science to micro-mobility schemes can help operators like us design our systems and tune our algorithms. This data is tremendously useful in allowing us to improve system accessibility for more city residents.
Research methods like the sort we used in this study can — and should — be replicated in the future. We should research usage-rates and patterns of underserved groups to identify barriers and obstacles that we may not be aware of. We have every intention to continue making bike sharing more inclusive.
About the research: TRANSFER is a research project led by Senior Researcher Tanu Priya Uteng, and conducted by the Institute of Transport Economics (TØI) and Department of Sociology and Human Geography (UIO). This project primarily studies the access-egress issues related to public transport in Oslo and Trondheim. TRANSFER is financed by the Norwegian Research Council under the aegis of its research program TRANSPORT 2025.