The Covid-19 crisis has significantly affected many aspects of our society including the way people travel. There has been a resurgence of cycling globally as it remains one of the safest, cleaner, most efficient, and healthier mode of transport for urban mobility in the world today.
Bike-sharing seems a better mobility option for urban trips in particular with the end of Covid-19 not in sight considering the uncertainty characterising each variant discovered. Additionally, the impact of Covid-19 lockdown and the travel-related restriction on common travel mode makes bike-sharing a better mobility option for urban trips. Literature suggests that Bike-sharing increases connectivity for urban mobility and makes work commutes and other social trips more efficient in the urban environment. Bike-sharing is found to be an efficient mode of transportation for completing the last leg of a mix-mode trip and a perfect mobility option for tourists and visitors. It is convenient particularly, for short trips, multi-stop/multi-purpose trips and mixed-mode journeys by providing easy and fast first-mile/last-mile access, enhancing productivity in the urban economy.
Research shows that gender issues in societies have a massive impact on women mobility. There exist significant gender differences in terms of the trips people make due to constructed gender roles in society. The triple work burden of women means women trade more time and cost for activity participation and make shorter and more trips throughout their life-course than men do. Women activity-time budget often adversely influences their job preference, work-life, and subjective well-being. However, the current urban transport systems do not adequately address all the mobility challenges of women.
The DIAMOND project investigated the physical and social transport needs and barriers of women as users of bike-sharing services. Combining both quantitative and qualitative research methods, data was collected through a comprehensive literature review, DAD surveys, online user satisfaction surveys, interviews, and focus group discussions. This analysis of the data collected via a variety of research methods assesses user perception about bicycle-sharing services and, the limitations of the existing schemes and the needs of users to ensure equity and gender fairness in the delivery of services. The study identifies the key factors affecting women’s travel choices in relation to bike-sharing services, in terms of service accessibility, safety and security, impact of social forces, the effect of weather and local topography, and the impact of the design of the bikes and facilities.
Results and findings
Bike-share was generally seen as giving users more freedom over their journeys, less restrictive, and a very convenient and quicker way to travel. The reasons for the choice of bike-share centre on leisure, commuting, environmental and the need to be active and safe. The cost of hiring and freedom from the responsibility of storage, maintenance and bike theft were among the various aspects of bike-sharing users find very convenient.
Aside, the reported freedom and convenience of using bike-sharing services to meet mobility needs, participants also identified a wide range of perceived barriers to the use of bike-sharing services, which limits the use of the services, particularly among women.
Regression analysis of the user satisfaction survey carried out shows that:
- Significant gender differences could be seen across the users. Women felt less satisfied with accessibility and, safety and security issues than men across all data sets.
- Satisfaction for users was positively related to age. Younger respondents (18-44 years) were less critical of bike-sharing systems than older respondents (45-74 years).
- Perception of safety was associated with the volume of traffic. Lower levels of traffic result in increased perception of safety and user satisfaction.
- Visibility and adequate lighting at docking stations also gave a predicted increase in sense of security and user satisfaction.
- The satisfaction of women at childbearing age was negatively impacted by the absence of accessories for cycling with children and carting goods, respondents indicated that provision would increase their level of satisfaction.
- Naturally, cycling and bike-sharing are significantly impacted by weather conditions, however, this could be mitigated by the supply of cycling raincoats to increase user satisfaction.
In general, the findings of the DIAMOND project about bike-sharing services, in terms of service accessibility, safety and security, the impact of social forces, the effect of weather and local topography, and the impact of the design of bikes and facilities are discussed below.
Bike-sharing increases transport accessibility for urban dwellers, not only for work commutes but also for shopping, tourism and recreational purposes. Bike-sharing provides a cheap transport option and can improve social participation of the disadvantaged.
Participants in our interviews indicated their desire to cycle and use bike-sharing services, however, participants have doubts about the ability of the current bike-sharing services to replace the traditional mobility modes due to concerns about the level of reliability associated with some services.
The unavailability of bikes at the stations when needed, the unavailability of vacant docking points at the stations to return a bike after rental, and the level of safety and protection provided by the cycle infrastructure and the lack of real-time information on the availability of bikes at the docking station were cited as major drawbacks of most bike-share schemes.
Measures recommended include the possibility of reserving a bike online (through Apps) for about 15 minutes before getting to the station, the ability to rent and unlock more than one bike from one account for trips involving family and friends, and the introduction of georeferenced dock-less bike-sharing schemes.
Dock-less bike-sharing schemes
Safety and security
The safety of the cyclist is assessed by the safety of the bike infrastructure (stations and paths), the driving behaviour of motorists on shared vehicle/bike infrastructure, vehicular volume and speeds on busy corridors, and the level of lighting at the bike stations and paths. These factors were found to considerably influence the decision of women to cycle or use shared bikes.
The development of safe infrastructure and bike lanes, improving visibility at bikes stations (improve lighting), development of road user code of conduct to deter aggressive road user behaviour, improving the visibility of bikes (High visibility bikes), supply of helmets with bikes and the installation of emergency help button at stations were among the recommendations to improve safety and promote cycling. In short, the development of segregated or protected cycle infrastructure will see more women cycling even without helmets as seen in the Netherlands.
Segregated and separate cycle paths
Bike with helmet
Bike-share also provides a cheap transport option for low-income households/persons, it provides a basic form of transportation for jobs and social activity participation for the disadvantaged in the population. The physical activity aspect of cycling promotes the mental wellbeing of the participants and lowers the odds of developing depression, particularly, in the current Covid-19 pandemic and its related social restriction. Research shows that women still bear the brunt of the triple burden imposed by societal norms and values, which creates gender differences in terms of why and where people travel. Women will benefit more from higher cycling levels and efficient bike-share systems due to the urban mobility characteristics of women.
However, the absence of carrying baskets or racks on most bikes, the lack of child seats and accessories for users with children and the inadequacy or discontinuity of the cycle infrastructure are major barrier to most users.
Bikes with child seat
The provision of good-sized carry baskets will help users wishing to use the services to meet their mobility needs for shopping trips and users with luggage; the supply of child seats at the stations for users with children who may wish to use the services with their children; the provision of a locker with a self-service detachable child seat at the stations for interested users to access when required, and the provision of broader bicycle seats (plus size bike seat) to cater for plus-sized users are among the recommendations to improve the services.
Bike with carry basket
Weather and topography
Weather and the topography of the terrain have been indicated as major barriers to cycling and bike-share for users. The provision of electric bikes was generally perceived as a necessity in addressing the issue of terrain and encouraging more women and older people to cycle. However, it is noted that the charging of the bikes is as important as the supply of e-bikes. While the issue of topography can be addressed with E-bikes, windy, rainy, and snowy weather tend to hinder the use of bike-share significantly.
Design of bikes
The design of the bikes, equipment and facilities are argued to pose some level of challenge to users, particularly women. The size and design of the bike could be a significant barrier to women wishing to cycle. The size and structure of bikes are important indicators for inclusivity. Therefore, in support of inexperienced riders, several improvements to the bikes such as lightweight, comfortable seats and universal designs (unisex design: low frame bikes) are recommended to ensure bikes are convenient for all sexes, particularly, women users.
Light weight and low frame bikes / Comfortable bike seat
About the authors
Edinburgh Napier University
The Transport Research Institute is part of Edinburgh Napier University and Scotland’s largest and longest established transport research group. Established in 1996 we have an enviable track record in delivering high quality transport research, consultancy and other knowledge transfer projects in applied settings.
Dr Augustus Ababio-Donkor is a Researcher at the Transport Research Institute, Edinburgh Napier University, UK. He is also a lecturer at the Civil Engineering Department, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana, and a member of the Regional Transport Research and Education Centre, Kumasi (TRECK).