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Understanding travel demand for women and men in urban Ethiopia

Blog Cities and State Effectiveness

Inadequate transport infrastructure in growing cities can lead to congestion and decreased mobility, making it crucial to prioritise efficient and safe transportation solutions. Investigating gender-specific travel demand in Ethiopia demonstrates the value of contextually appropriate and equitable transportation policies and services for rapidly growing cities.

Investments in transport infrastructure are a long-proven driver of economic development. High-quality transport connects people by improving their mobility, leading to increased integration, interaction, and engagement.  Increased mobility enables people to better access services such as healthcare and education;  engage with labour markets; be more productive; and work with others. All of these factors can in turn improve overall wellbeing provided that the solutions implemented to improve transport are tailored to people’s needs.

Gendered demand for travel in a rapidly urbanising Africa

Africa’s population is projected to double by 2050, and the annual growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa (2.7%) is more than double that of South Asia (1.2%) and three times that of Latin America (0.9%). African cities will join the race for expansion and by the end of this century - 13 of the world’s 20 biggest megalopolises will be located in Africa. Therefore, inadequate urban planning that fails to account for such rapid growth, combined with low-quality or non-existent roads and traffic management, will only create more congestion and decrease mobility.

Poor transport infrastructure can disproportionately affect women, who are often subject to additional travel barriers. For women, transport planning goes beyond considering the mere logistics of the journey. Women face additional risks due to greater safety concerns, financial dependence on men and other household members, childcare responsibilities, and restrictive cultural norms.

Accordingly, gendered differences in mobility are visible in women’s everyday choices, from choosing transport modes that accommodate travel with children, to restricting travel to daylight hours for safety reasons, to being accompanied by a family or community member to conform with gendered social conventions. In order to promote policies that meet the demand for safe, efficient, and inclusive transport, it is essential to first understand how mobility and travel demand may vary between men and women.

While the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise the importance of providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transit for all within its cities and urban areas initiative, there is a relative lack of contextual research in low- and middle-income countries. Specifically, the gendered nature of mobility and the corresponding demand for travel in these settings, remains understudied.

Navigating the transport challenges in Addis Ababa

In the last decade, Addis Ababa has witnessed a significant expansion in its transport network, roads and services, and the introduction of the first Ethiopian metro Light Rail Transit (LRT). Despite these initiatives, they have not yet been able to fully address rapid rates of urbanisation. While the LRT has the capacity to carry over 60,000 passengers an hour, other more commonly used modes of transport, like mini-buses, are continually overcrowded. Known as “blue donkeys,” these decades-old mini-buses are often repaired on the side of the road and are neither safe nor comfortable, although they offer more convenient routes and can be accessed at lower prices (about US$ 0.10 per trip). Even with a network comprising thousands of vehicles, waiting times can reach up to two hours due to low vehicle capacity, high traffic, and increasing congestion in the city.

Figure 1: Transportation in Ethiopia

Figure 1

Notes: (L) Pedestrians crossing the road, parallel to a mini-bus, in Addis Ababa. (R) Mini-buses and taxis waiting at Mercato (Africa's biggest open-air market) in Addis Ababa. Source: Authors.

Investigating gender-specific travel patterns in Addis Ababa’s lower-income neighbourhoods

The introduction of efficient, affordable, and safe transportation services for all is essential for meeting the demand in such fast-growing cities as Addis Ababa and should be one of the policymakers’ priorities. We conducted a randomised controlled trial with 1,000 married couples in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to examine differences in mobility patterns and transport preferences between men and women who live in lower-income neighbourhoods in Addis Ababa. To identify latent demand for travel in urban settings, we implemented a two-month trial where we provided free and efficient transport (on demand private taxi services) to men alone, women alone, or couples jointly. The objective was to observe the effects of improved transport accessibility on passenger mobility, access to services, choice of desired destinations, as well as measures of empowerment, satisfaction, and wellbeing, with a particular focus on women.

The impact of gender on travel frequency patterns, workplace proximity, and travel behaviour

Even prior to offering our transport service, we found significant differences in mobility by gender.

  1. Men report a higher frequency of travel compared to women, with 80% of men traveling daily or almost daily compared to less than 40% of women.
  2. Women whose work requires travel choose workplaces that are closer to their residences, with an average travel time of 33 minutes to travel to work compared to 38 minutes for men. Moreover, the proportion of women (44%) who only walk to work is double that of men (22%) doing the same.
  3. While almost all women in our sample reported travelling to the market for grocery shopping, less than 30% of men did so. Women also went grocery shopping more often, with over a quarter reporting weekly or more frequent travel compared to only 3% of men.

We also noted significant differences in the voucher utilisation and travel behaviour by gender.

  1. Although we did not see significant differences in the total number of trips, women who received the transport service alone had a higher average expenditure per trip compared to men who received the service alone, suggesting they might have travelled longer distances.
  2. Women were significantly more likely than men to go on taxi trips alone.
  3. The proportion of trips made with a spouse was lowest among couples who received the trans- port service jointly, potentially because the service allowed for each spouse to travel separately.
  4. The proportion of trips made with children is higher among women who received the taxi service compared to men who received the service.

Finally, about 30% of women and 24% of men who made at least one trip agreed that the taxi service helped with their job search. This preliminary observation suggests the presence of a spatial mismatch, where job opportunities for lower-income households are located far from their places of residence. Taken together, offering access to free and efficient transport services reduces barriers to physical mobility and the cost of job searching, potentially resulting in higher employment rates and increased labour force participation, particularly for women.

Gender-sensitive evidence is vital for building equitable transportation and urban policy

By providing high-quality, free transport that is available on demand and at any time, we alleviated a wide range of constraints that may be contributing to the existing travel burdens in Addis Ababa. In doing so, we could more effectively measure the latent demand for travel by observing how mobility pattern shifts, travel frequency, and measures of travel behaviour change in a less constrained environment. This understanding of latent demand would enable practitioners and planners to more effectively allocate resources to target and eliminate weaknesses and gaps in access and service provision.

We note that transport is gender-sensitive, and the provision of high-quality, affordable transport has direct implications for mobility as well as for more expansive measures of social and economic wellbeing, particularly for women. Investigating gender-specific travel demand will help policymakers in identifying gender-driven barriers and inequalities in mobility. It will also provide a basis for developing more inclusive transportation strategies. We shed light on these issues and demonstrate the indispensable role of gender-sensitive evidence in provision of transportation that is safe and effective for all. Such transportation should be tailored to meet the needs of the population and be able to keep up with the pace of rapidly growing cities.