March/April 1994, p.15

Do Environmental Measures and Travel Reduction Programs Hurt Working Women?
A report to the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor
Dr. Sandra Rosenbloom and Dr. Elizabeth Burns
The Drachman Institute for Land and Regional Development Studies, Tucson, 1993,79 Pages plus Appendices

Women work harder, earn less money, do more uncompensated work, have fewer employment options, and are more threatened by violence than men. Transportation policy should consider these facts and play a role in changing them.

The authors of this report have taken a first step by examining how employer-sponsored travel demand management programs (mandated under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA)) will effect working women.

Rosenbloom and Burns looked at surveys of workers conducted as part of employers' efforts to reduce solo driving by their employees in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona in 1990 and 1991. They discovered that women, especially women with children, are more or as likely as men to be solo drivers and that women take longer to get to work despite their shorter commute distances.

The authors hypothesize that women with children and domestic duties use cars more because they find alternatives such as buses unsafe and impractical. The surveys did not ask respondents about "linked trips" (stopping at daycare on the way home from work), but the authors suggest that linked trips explain women's more time-consuming travel and their preference for solo driving. They offer the anecdote of the woman who worked across the street from her home but reported that it took her 15 minutes to get to work, because she had to first drive her children to daycare.

Rosenbloom and Bums assert that working mothers (about one third of women surveyed) will be hard hit by trip reduction programs aimed at reducing solo driving. "Many women will continue to drive," the authors suggest "accepting new expenses [financial penalties for solo driving], because driving still costs less than the additional child or eldercare needs created by longer commutes, or because they cannot obtain the needed care, or because they must use the time to conduct their domestic responsibilities, or because they cannot find or do not feel safe taking public transit Other women will change modes, but at some cost to the well-being of their families."

Although sympathetic to the environmental goals of auto use reduction policies, the authors contend that "environmental policies...have failed to address [the cars] compelling benefits, particularly for working women." Clearly, according to the authors, the car makes women's double burden of wage work and uncompensated domestic work easier to bear. The authors do not suggest that working mothers should get special permission to pollute more, cause more accidents etc., due to their need for the auto's reputed convenience, cheapness and safety. Instead they ask that employers structure their trip reduction programs to minimize hardship for working women.

The authors propose an equitable package of incentives and services to reduce women's solo driving. These include flexible work schedules, worksite childcare, safer transit for children, transit and childcare subsidies, mid-day transportation to grocery stores, and guaranteed "ride home" programs. Rosenbloom and Burns assert that its unfair to penalize women who decide to drive to work, faced with no option in the situation that they must rush home to a sick child. Employers could respond to such needs by providing company cars for emergencies.

The authors conclude, "Air pollution, traffic congestion, lives lost to car accidents--all of these are important societal concerns ... Yet over the coming decade as we enact measures to strike at the major cause of these problems--the car--we must also strike at the problems that cause women to depend so disproportionately on the car." In this framework, trip reduction programs take shape as a mandated opportunity for employers to address long-standing women's issues such as safety and childcare provision.

While this report suffers from its authors' biases--they believe that the car is the best all around transport mode, that transit is unlikely to conquer the suburbs, and that "bicycling is largely a male mode," apparently not for women--their basic point needs to taken seriously by the environmental community. If working mothers' concerns are ignored, the road/auto lobby can claim that environmentalists care more about the earth than about women and children. Let's prove them wrong.

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