Transport Equity Begins with Data


Making Mobility Data Work Better for Women in Delhi

Delhi has made significant strides in advancing sustainable mobility in recent years. The city has expanded public transit networks, added new metro lines, increased the number of buses, and launched progressive policies to reduce air pollution from vehicles.

But as Delhi works to build a more modern, efficient transportation system, it must also ensure that these services benefit women equally. In many parts of the world, women face unique barriers and threats when accessing and using public transit. Their needs and perspectives are often overlooked in transport planning and policy.

Delhi has an opportunity to establish itself as a leader in designing transit systems with women’s safety and inclusion in mind. Recent research provides insights into how mobility data can be leveraged to make urban transport work better for women in the Indian capital.

Why Women’s Travel Patterns Differ in Delhi

Women’s mobility patterns, needs, and constraints differ substantially from men’s in Delhi and cities worldwide. Various cultural, social, economic and infrastructure factors contribute to these differences.

Women make more trips by public transit and fewer by private automobile. In Delhi, 41% of women’s trips are by public transport versus 36% for men. The gender gap in auto ownership and access underlies this variance.

Women chain multiple stops and trip purposes together more often as they balance domestic duties, family responsibilities, and work. Women also trip chain to conserve time and resources.

Safety concerns profoundly impact women’s mobility. Fear of harassment and assault leads many women to avoid traveling after dark, wait for family/friends, choose less direct routes, or pay for more expensive transport perceived as safer.

Transport accessibility barriers disproportionately affect women. With lower socioeconomic status on average, women are more dependent on affordable options like buses which have limited reach into peripheral areas where poorer households live.

Family obligations further constrain women’s travel. Child care duties result in more off-peak travel and juggling stops like school drop-off. Even working women bear an outsized share of household errands.

How Transportation Data Fails to Capture Women’s Needs

Mobility data used for transport planning in Delhi and around the world suffers from a male gender bias. Here are some of the key data gaps that overlook women’s experiences and travel behaviors:

  • Activity surveys underrepresent female respondents. Men tend to be surveyed more often as assumed heads of households. Women who don’t work outside the home are excluded entirely from many travel diary surveys focused on commuting.
  • Trip purposes ignore caregiving and domestic trips. Travel surveys and models categorize trips simply as work, education, or leisure. The multitude of trips women make for household errands and family caretaking become lost.
  • Data focuses on commute trips during peak periods. Non-work travel, off-peak mobility, trip chaining and non-direct routes that women rely on are discounted in data collection and analysis.
  • Surveys miss the constraints that affect women’s choices. Data shows where, when and how women travel but not the reasons behind their patterns. Key influences like safety concerns and family duties are ignored.
  • Data tends to focus only on public transit use. Little data exists on women’s use of intermediate public transport like auto-rickshaws which are essential in areas poorly served by transit.
  • Origin-destination data excludes accessibility barriers. Transport data often shows where women travel from and to but overlooks accessibility factors shaping those patterns.
  • *Lack of demographic segmentation in data. With data rarely segmented by gender and income level, the mobility patterns and needs of lower-income women are obscured.

These data blind spots lead to transportation models, forecasting tools, and policies that fail to capture the full picture of women’s mobility. Delhi and cities worldwide need better data to plan systems to meet women’s needs.

Insights on Women’s Transit Use from Delhi Metro Data

A 2019 study from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy and Safetipin offers a model for generating rich mobility data focused on women. The researchers collaborated with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to analyze metro usage by gender and design recommendations to improve women’s safety and experience.

The metro dataset provided a detailed look at women’s travel patterns, including:

  • Trip times – Women take more off-peak trips after 8:00 PM and before 7:00 AM.
  • Coach usage – Women are more likely to ride in women’s only coaches and less likely to use mixed coaches.
  • Station access – A greater share of women’s trips start or end at stations with safer, more convenient access.
  • Interchanges – Women make more transfers between lines, such as to reach suburban areas not served by single metro lines.
  • Vehicle load – Women avoid crowding, traveling in off-peak hours when coaches are less congested.

The data revealed that women feel and are more vulnerable at night, leading to changes in their ridership:

  • After 8:00 PM, women’s share of metro ridership drops from 33% to 17%.
  • In the late evening, the number of women opting for women’s only coaches jumps significantly.
  • When traveling at night, women choose stations with safer access and more amenities like properly lit walking paths, security guards, public toilets, etc.

These insights showcase the value of granular, gender-disaggregated data to understand women’s mobility patterns and needs. This data enables more tailored policies and infrastructure investments to make transit systems more responsive to women.

Recommendations to Improve Women’s Safety in Delhi Metro

Based on the rider data, the researchers provided a series of recommendations to help the Delhi Metro expand women’s access and improve their safety:

  • Expand women’s coaches to other lines and times, like late night owl services when safety concerns spike. Sengupta notes women sometimes opt not to ride or change their trip if women’s coaches aren’t available.
  • Prioritize secure access such as well-lit walking paths, security cameras, guards, and emergency cell service at stations used frequently by women or late at night.
  • Add waiting areas that are visible, secure, and weather protected at interchange stations where women wait between transfers.
  • Provide amenities like toilets and seating at busy stations to aid women combining multiple errands and family responsibilities on their journeys.
  • Deploy safety staff and guards on platforms at major stations used by women. A conspicuous security presence deters harassment and attacks.
  • Offer taxi stands at stations in low density areas so women aren’t stranded when exiting the metro. Authorities should vet drivers and companies to provide safe rides.
  • Engage women passengers through surveys and focus groups to continue understanding their needs and improving conditions over time.

The recommendations demonstrate how targeted data collection and analysis can translate into tailored solutions for improving women’s mobility. While the Delhi Metro has expanded rapidly in recent years, it must continue engaging women users through data and dialogue to build a system that meets their needs equally.

Applying Lessons to Other Transport Modes in Delhi

While the metro analysis provided valuable insights on women’s use of rapid transit, further research should explore how women access and navigate the full range of transport modes in Delhi and other cities.

Buses – As Delhi adds more buses, data is needed on women’s usage patterns, safety perceptions, and access to stops along major routes. Do women avoid certain routes or times? What amenities do bus stops lack?

Auto-rickshaws – Intermediate public transit like auto-rickshaws fills a crucial niche getting passengers from transit stops to their destinations. Data can shed light on women’s use, constraints around cost and safety, and access gaps.

Ride-hailing – Services like Ola and Uber are critical for women lacking safe transit options at night or in remote areas. Research can reveal discrimination by drivers, gaps in coverage, and barriers related to smartphone/payment access.

Pedestrian infrastructure – Many women rely on walking to transit stops or other destinations. Studies can identify high-priority areas for sidewalk improvements, better lighting, road safety features, etc. to facilitate safe access.

Travel after dark – Comprehensive surveys should explore both actual incidents and perceptions of harassment and assault to determine danger hotspots and identify infrastructure and community interventions.

Bicycling – Delhi’s climate and compact urban form favour cycling. Data on cultural barriers to women’s cycling, plus infrastructure and parking needs, can guide development of bike networks usable by women.

Delhi’s policymakers should engage women from all income levels to generate data illuminating how they access and perceive each transport mode. Beyond quantitative data, qualitative focus groups and interviews can also capture valuable perspectives on women’s mobility challenges. This data will enable more holistic strategies for closing gender gaps across Delhi’s entire transport spectrum.

The Way Forward: Engendering Data for Women’s Inclusion

Delhi has the chance to lead by example in leveraging mobility data to plan transportation systems that work better for women. The path forward requires:

  • Challenging assumptions that men’s travel patterns typify all users and recognizing women’s distinct needs.
  • Disaggregating data by gender across sources from censuses and activity surveys to trip diaries, ridership stats, infrastructure audits, and other transport sector data.
  • Surveying women to capture missing dimensions related to trip-chaining, domestic travel, family obligations, safety perceptions, and accessibility barriers.
  • Focusing research on off-peak travel times, non-commute trips, transfers, and informal transit.
  • Generating qualitative data through interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic studies to complement quantitative data.
  • Analyzing findings through an intersectional lens considering how gender intersects with income, age, disability, and location.
  • Applying data to policies and investment targeting women’s inclusion across all planning and policy for transport modes.
  • Setting targets and performance indicators to track progress on women’s mobility, safety, and access over time.

The Delhi metro gender analysis demonstrates the value of targeted data in making transport systems responsive to women’s needs. Delhi’s policymakers have an immense opportunity to lead in engendering urban mobility. By leveraging data to understand women’s travel patterns and barriers, leaders can plan cities where all residents can move freely.


Delhi has made impressive strides in expanding and modernizing its transportation networks in recent years. But the city now faces the vital task of ensuring its mobility investments and policies benefit all segments of society, including women who face unique barriers in accessing urban transportation systems.

As this article has explored, transportation data collection and planning processes suffer from inherent male gender bias around the world. Data often overlooks the distinct ways women travel and fails to capture the full range of trips they make to serve household and family duties. Surveys focus overwhelmingly on peak period commuting, underrepresenting the off-peak, non-work, multi-stop trips women frequently chain together. Safety concerns profoundly impact women’s mobility and route choices but are poorly reflected in transport data.

The consequence is urban mobility systems designed first and foremost to serve male commuters traveling to and from work during peak periods. Women’s needs as off-peak, multi-modal travelers who juggle household responsibilities with income generation are marginalized. Public transit networks, key arteries, and timetabling reflect male-oriented patterns. Transport safety and accessibility for women become an afterthought rather than a priority.

Delhi now has an opportunity to correct these oversights by placing women at the center of transport data collection, planning, and policy. As the Delhi Metro gender analysis shows, disaggregated rider data can provide invaluable insights into women’s usage patterns and barriers. These in turn enable data-driven upgrades to improve women’s safety, comfort, and access.

The path forward requires transport planners to intentionally survey women and engage them in qualitative studies to capture missing dimensions related to off-peak trips, domestic travel, family duties, safety concerns, and accessibility barriers. Transport data must be disaggregated by gender across sources to reveal differences in mobility patterns and needs. And findings must shape tangible policies and infrastructure investments to dismantle constraints to women’s mobility.

Mobility data has the power to make women’s lives, voices, and experiences visible. Harnessed properly, data can inform planning of transportation systems responsive to women’s travel needs. Delhi’s leaders have a prime opportunity to move the needle on urban women’s inclusion. By engendering its transport data collection and policy agenda, the city can ensure women benefit equally from its investments in sustainable mobility. Doing so will provide a model for integrating gender into transportation planning worldwide.

The coming years will determine if Delhi seizes this moment to lead in closing mobility gender gaps. The city’s progress on leveraging data to advance women’s transport access will offer lessons for rapidly urbanizing India and cities across the global south. Delhi has the chance to set a new standard where gathering, analyzing, and applying mobility data through a gender lens becomes business as usual in transport planning. Achieving this vision will result in tangible improvements in women’s safety, comfort, and access to urban opportunities.

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