Q&A: Daniela Flores, Ivette Yanez, and Yara Antoniassi on women’s public transport experiences in Mexico City and Lima
WhereIsMyTransport and Data-Pop Alliance have published a groundbreaking new report [es] looking at how women use public transport, the obstacles they face, and their perceptions of mobility in Mexico City and Lima. We spoke with project leads Daniela Flores from WhereIsMyTransport and Ivette Yanez and Yara Antoniassi from Data-Pop Alliance about the research and its impact.
Tell us about your role in this project, and where you work?
Daniela: I’m a Researcher at WhereIsMyTransport, currently focused on UX Research for our public transport app Rumbo. I have supported research projects for us over the last two years, and I wrote this report after nine months of collaboration and insight sharing with Data-Pop Alliance.
Ivette: I’m a Researcher and Project Manager at Data-Pop Alliance, where I also lead the Communications team. We’re a think-and-do tank that has six priority research areas, and for this project with WhereIsMyTransport, it fell into our Data Feminism and Geographies of Inequalities programmes. This project was a great intersection for us.
Yara: I worked as a Data Analyst for this project, from São Paulo, Brazil. I am now Research and Data Analyst at Data-Pop Alliance and I work on some of our priority research programmes, including Data Feminism.
Why was there little data available to analyse mobility with a gender perspective in Mexico City and Lima?
Daniela: We started this research with a literature review, and we found that we just didn’t have reliable and publicly-available data on mobility with a gender lens. Why? Organisations are used to considering just one perspective — that of male passengers. Traditionally in these cities, men were seen as the people who went out to work, went out to study, went out to do economic activities. It used to be thought that women had to stay at home, doing domestic activities and taking care of the family. Mobility for women was not considered important for economic development, or relevant for cities.
In recent decades, we have seen a transformation. Women are now going out to work and study. They are still doing care work, but they are also doing lots of other things where mobility is needed. Researchers in Latin America are still exploring how this is playing out. With projects like this one with Data-Pop Alliance, we are creating knowledge about women and mobility in emerging markets.
Ivette: At Data-Pop Alliance we work with different kinds of data: traditional and nontraditional. So that means everything from surveys, like in this case, to something like machine learning. We see this project as highly innovative and relevant because of the lack of available data that Daniela mentioned. That was especially the case in Peru — there’s nothing publicly available from national statistical offices, and no other accessible government efforts. What we’re doing with this project is calling attention to these data gaps, and creating visibility.
Yara: Even when we do have governmental data or official mobility surveys, if that work is not undertaken with a gender lens, it just captures an overview. That has some use, but there are specific questions that should be approached differently for women. For example, if you just ask women what time they travel or where they usually travel to, it doesn’t capture things like the stops they make to take children to school or buy groceries. That was one of the big innovations we undertook with this project in Mexico City and Lima. We knew it was important for there to be a survey with the gender lens, so we produced the survey.
What findings from this research stood out to you?
Daniela: For me, one of the most shocking findings was that six out of 10 women have rejected a job offer because of mobility difficulties. This could be because they’d leave work late when it’s dark, because there’s no transport where they live, or because of the risk of harassment. It showed me how lack of mobility stops people from looking for opportunities.
Harassment is a big problem in Latin America. Recently, some people have suggested that women are unfairly making a big deal about it, but this survey showed us that it’s the most common form of aggression in public transport in both Lima and Mexico City — and it happens at all stages in women’s journeys. Many women even feel like they have to change their clothing to avoid being harassed. And we found that women plan their journeys in advance, and make changes to their routes to feel safer, even if that means taking more time to travel. These obstacles make the commuting experience worse than it should be.
Yara: Overall, we found that women need to change a lot just because they are women taking public transport. This is something that most men don’t need to concern themselves with. We also found that harassment cases are consistent, no matter which type of public transport, or what time women take public transport. Yes, the percentage of women that suffer harassment is a bit higher for journeys after 22:00, but you can see that the rate is actually high the entire day. This shows that we need to address this challenge, not only during the evening and not only in one specific type of transportation.
Daniela: We usually think that women travel from like 6:00 to 9:00 in the morning and then again at 18:00 after work. But we also noticed that a lot of women travel between 10:00 and 18:00. That’s usually what we’d consider off-peak hours. So why? We found out that, yes, women are still doing care work for relatives, but they are also travelling to have their own businesses, to buy things of their own, or for studying. We are seeing women opening their perspectives and doing all these new activities, but also balancing it with care work.
Ivette: Something that caught my attention is the experience of public transport users living in the periphery of the city. In Mexico City, women in the outer metropolitan area tend to be very marginalised, and I believe that is also the case in Lima. Mobility is contributing towards that. It’s more expensive to reach the city centre, it takes more time, and women have to make more changes on their routes. Instead of mobility being something that makes life easier, it’s contributing to perpetuating that marginalisation.
Daniela: Inequality is something that came up a lot on this project. We noticed that women who live on the outskirts of the city spend more time and money on public transport. But it’s also a big part of why they reject opportunities — because there are not enough mobility options to get to the places where they can get higher incomes or better educations.
What was the experience like working together on this research?
Yara: Bringing our knowledge and experience together was really interesting. At Data-Pop Alliance, we have knowledge about data and development, but mobility is one of the areas where we were looking to add some depth. But it wasn’t just mobility expertise that WhereIsMyTransport brought. The hyperlocal perspective of Daniela and the WhereIsMyTransport research team was really valuable for us. Working together was really easy.
Ivette: I was really happy to have been involved in this collaboration and want us to make more strides in this type of research. From designing the surveys to doing the reviews and analysis, it was a really excellent piece of work. Our skills really complemented each other. WhereIsMyTransport did an excellent job leading the research and bringing forward a passion for improving the experiences of public transport users, and thinking about how that data can benefit women.
Daniela: The team at Data-Pop Alliance helped us identify some of the main findings — things that might be able to connect with women in these cities. What is missing in current mobility data? What did we want to get from the survey? And what do we want to create for women in Mexico City and Lima? We were all able to connect very easily to identify what was needed, because we both already had the gender perspective top of mind. Maybe this was partly due to lived experiences in our own cities.
What role did the users of our public transport app Rumbo play in this work?
Daniela: It was key to have Rumbo in these cities. Two of the values of Rumbo are localisation and community building. We already have a big community of public transport users in Mexico City and Lima. We also have our fantastic marketing teams in each city who noticed that our users were interested in sharing knowledge about public transport and mobility. We reached out with this study, and it showed us how engaged people using Rumbo really are. We didn’t have to do a lot of marketing. I think that is partly because we always listen to what our users share with us. With this project, we’ve used the information shared to bring forward something of value to the community.
What next for the outcomes of this research?
Ivette: I want this report to become a footprint for policy making. There is a lot that can be used for decision-making, or for enacting changes in mobility networks in Mexico City and Lima. But we also identified areas where we’d benefit from further research, to be representative of the city level. There are things we couldn’t tackle here because the scale was too great. But honestly, we also need research that considers men, because I think the situation of many men is not what we assume it is. A lot of men are getting more involved in care activities, for example. So how is that changing? And how can mobility help them with their needs?
Daniela: We’ve already identified a few gaps. Like Ivette mentioned, understanding how women’s roles are changing, and understanding how men’s roles are changing. In this report, we focused solely on women and didn’t try to make any comparisons — that was not our main objective. We were working to improve the visibility and understanding of women’s public transport needs. The question for us at WhereIsMyTransport is what can make people’s experience of commuting by public transport better? How do we make it a ‘lighter’ experience in cities that are huge and, often, chaotic? How do we connect people to mobility when information about their public transport options isn’t so well connected?
Yara: With broader participation and the right questions, we could aim to further understand women from different groups. Mobility for women with disabilities, LGBT women, women with kids — we could disaggregate data to understand if they have younger or older kids. We could see how those different groups of women are affected differently to women in general, and how policy makers can address those specificities. But it’s important to remember that these results are not only useful for governments. That’s often people’s first thought. These findings could be interesting for the police, helping them understand how women report issues, or whether they report them. They’re insightful for private companies like ride hailing apps — we now have data on how women feel insecure using those services as well. This research is useful to policy makers, private companies, and anyone that’s involved in mobility. Including public transport companies!