USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Site Notification

Site Notification

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Spring 2020

Spring 2020
Issue No:
Vol. 84 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Examining Insights, Inclusion, and Impact Across the Globe

by Shari Schaftlein and Jasmy Methipara

The 6th International Conference on Women's Issues in Transportation put gender-specific challenges in the spotlight.

The Federal Highway Administration has long demonstrated through policy, programs, guidance, and research the importance of the Nation's transportation system to support users of all ages and abilities. Continuous and deliberate efforts must occur to meet this goal, particularly to achieve a seamless multimodal system. Through various multi-stakeholder workshops, conferences, and initiatives, the transportation industry is breaking down user groups by factors such as age, ability, ethnicity, geography, and income to evaluate how well it is serving the needs of identified groups.


The 6th International Conference on Women's Issues in Transportation focused on gender-specific challenges, insights, and impacts.


In 2005, the number of female licensed drivers eclipsed males in the United States. The workforce gender gap has steadily narrowed. Both of these factors have contributed to the overall rise in both vehicle trips and person trips. Because women are an increasing segment of transport system users and also most at risk for harassment and trafficking, it is imperative that efforts be made to improve their safety and security.

Gender-specific aspects of travel and transportation were the focus of the 6th International Conference on Women's Issues in Transportation hosted by the Transportation Research Board in September 2019 in Irvine, CA. Little research has been done to understand the major obstacles and constraints encountered by women travelers and women workers in the transportation industry. This conference aimed to focus on and explore in depth the need and opportunity such research affords to improve policies, actions, and outcomes for individuals facing gender-based disparity in transportation.

"Today's society continues to set expectations for transportation to demonstrate inclusion, diversity, and equity in all that we do," says Therese McMillan, executive director of California's Metropolitan Transportation Commission and a conference co-chair.

After five previous conferences documenting gender differences since 1978, this conference emphasized a focus on not only insights and inclusion, but also on impact. Is the acquired knowledge and awareness, along with society's attention on gender equality, influencing progress on issues important to women? Through plenary, technical, poster, and social events, 349 participants (including 71 international participants and 60 students) reflected on a variety of topics such as personal safety, travel behavior, workforce development, new technologies, biking, policy, and inclusion/equity.


Gwen Kash, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech, presents a poster at the conference.



USDOT Participation

Beyond financial sponsorship through FHWA, participants from FHWA, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and USDOT's Office of the Secretary (OST) attended the conference and contributed in many ways.

To promote awareness of the conference, TR News dedicated its May—June 2019 issue to women and gender in transportation. In the issue, FHWA's Wesley Blount, Jr., a transportation specialist with FHWA's Office of Human Environment, authored an article titled "Challenges of Bicycling and Walking Faced by Minority Women in Low-Income Communities." The article describes how bike organizations are providing safe spaces for minority women to ride together to enhance skills and develop relationships. Also highlighted is FHWA's role in providing technical assistance to State departments of transportation to improve safety and equity in low-income areas. The May—June 2019 issue of TR News is available online at



Shari Schaftlein of the FHWA Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty served as liaison to the Standing Committee on Women's Issues in Transportation (ABE70), which organized the conference. Schaftlein also moderated the opening plenary, designed to gain insights on how women's travel behavior has changed in the past 30 years in Asia, Europe, and the United States. The most notable trend is the change in commute patterns that reflects women's increased role in the workplace. All presenters agreed that more nuanced data collection schemes must account for multimodal trip generation associated with caregiving roles and other trip chaining. These travel patterns are very common for workers involved in the gig economy where jobs are typically temporary or part time.

Panel Discussion on Collaborative Research

In a panel discussion, Danyell Diggs, a senior transportation program analyst from the FTA Office of Research, Demonstration, and Innovation; Patricia Hu, director of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics; and Jasmy Methipara, a research analyst from the FHWA Office of Transportation Policy Studies, framed the future for women in transportation through collaborative research with their counterparts in the European Commission.

Diggs presented FTA's approach to integrated mobility innovation, which fosters the complete trip. The complete trip is a holistic concept. If one link in a trip chain is not accessible or achievable, the chain is broken, the trip effectively ends, and an opportunity is lost.

Methipara shared gender insights from Federal data, specifically from sources such as FHWA's National Household Travel Survey, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Methipara emphasized understanding new data and opportunities and combining them with existing data sources to improve insight into travel behavior trends.


The accessibility of a complete trip can be defined in terms of an individual's ability to go from origin to destination without gaps in the travel chain.


"Separating data by gender tells a more complete story and is very important to fully meet the travel needs of the American people," says Methipara.

Emphasizing the theme of the conference, Methipara's presentation reminded attendees how good data improve women's inclusion in the transportation space, provide insight into their travel behavior, and impact service quality for female travelers.


Representatives from FHWA, FTA, and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics of the European Commission participated in a panel on possibilities for collaborative research.



The related work underway at the European Commission is well described in the 2019 report, Women in European Transport with a Focus on Research and Innovation (EUR 29833 EN), available at

In addition to the presenters, FHWA's Francine Shaw Whitson, then a senior advisor with FHWA's Office of Infrastructure (now retired), recorded the session. Shaw Whitson compared what she heard from the panelists with her experience of representing FHWA with the World Road Association (PIARC). Many of the issues identified during the panel are similar to issues faced in Africa, Asia, and Europe, including the employment of women in the road sector, gathering data on women as road users, and improving accessibility to economic opportunities and services for women.

Combating Human Trafficking

OST's Office of International Transportation and Trade took the lead in coordinating a session on combating human trafficking in the transportation sector. Panelists spotlighted USDOT's counter-trafficking initiatives, early results from a National Cooperative Highway Research Program study on State DOTs, and the efforts of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's (PennDOT).

On behalf of Julie Abraham, the director of the Office of International Transportation and Trade, panelist Maha Alkhateeb, a transportation research analyst in the same office, provided an overview of USDOT's human trafficking initiative and the final report from the USDOT Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking (ACHT). Alkhateeb highlighted USDOT's efforts to combat human trafficking in the transportation sector by working with public and private stakeholders through leadership engagement, employee training, public awareness, and funding. The ACHT report includes useful tools and resources to bolster countertrafficking efforts by transportation stakeholders, including a model comprehensive strategy with associated policies and protocols, training and awareness best practices, quick implementation guides, and sample materials. The report is available at

Potential research opportunities exist for public and private research partners to collectively close the data gap on the intersection of human trafficking and transportation. Opportunities include the method and frequency of transportation used during recruitment and operations, victim interactions with transportation stakeholders, modal indicators of trafficking, and survivor transportation needs. NCHRP 20-121, State DOT Contributions to the Study, Investigation, and Interdiction of Human Trafficking, found that State DOTs are interested in understanding how their organizations can help combat this crime. Panelist Chris Baglin, the principal investigator for the study, described various approaches that State DOTs can take to support law enforcement and assist victims, such as training to identify the signs of the crime in a transportation setting and instituting processes for reporting suspected incidents.


From left to right, Chris Baglin; Elizabeth Connell (moderator), a transportation engineer with a consulting firm; Emma Lowe, the special assistant to Pennsylvania's Secretary of Transportation; and Maha Alkhateeb, a transportation research analyst with USDOT's Office of International Transportation and Trade, spoke on a panel about combatting human trafficking in the transportation sector.


In 2014, Pennsylvania passed comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation. In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 630 calls from the State resulting in 275 pursued cases. To combat trafficking, PennDOT provides interactive web-based training to all DOT and transit agency employees, distributes Truckers Against Trafficking wallet cards at all driver license centers, posts public service announcements on all social media channels and the televised Motor Vehicle Network, and partners with other transportation entities to spread awareness.

Gender Differences in Driving, Biking, and Safety

A popular poster at the conference was "Gender Trends and Differences in Driving, Biking, and Safety." The poster drew a crowd and inspired debate on why such significant gender differences exist. FHWA's Schaftlein, with the help of data graphics staff at FHWA and the Federal Railroad Administration, combined several infographics to tell the story.


Shari Schaftlein displays USDOT's poster on "Gender Trends and Differences in Driving, Biking, and Safety."


The poster highlighted statistics such as:

  • In fatal crashes, more males were speeding than females, and males are involved in fatal crashes at a significantly higher rate.
  • Fewer than 3 in 10 railroad crossing fatalities involve women.
  • In 2017, women drivers outnumbered men for the twelfth straight year. The number of women drivers has doubled in the last 50 years and exceeds men in every cohort group over 34 years of age.
  • Women are generally safer drivers based on total crashes, trips taken, and number of licensed drivers, but slightly worse for miles traveled.
  • Men account for 9 out of 10 cyclist fatalities.

Safety and Security

The most jarring statistics, which show how far we must go to ensure safe travel for women, come from the reports on harassment and violence against women in transport and public spaces. The challenge spans across the globe in transit, walking, and biking.


FHWA helped produce a video about women's transportation security issues titled, "Women's Safety & Security," which was shown at the conference.


A 2014 survey of 16 major cities worldwide found that women in Latin American cities suffered the highest rates of harassment, with about 6 in 10 women physically harassed on transport systems. In Mexico City, 64 percent of women said they had been groped or physically harassed on public transportation. An onboard passenger survey by LA Metro in 2018 found 26 percent of female riders and 21 percent of male riders had experienced sexual harassment on transit over the 6 months prior. An online survey of 1,000 riders by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in 2018 found 21 percent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation and that women were nearly twice as likely as men to be victims. Across the literature, sexual crime against women in transit (cases of staring, touching, groping, ejaculation, exposing genitalia, and full rape) is highly underreported, and can occur when walking to and from bus or subway stops, as well as while waiting for and riding on public transit.

To help draw attention to the issue, FHWA's Office of International Programs and TRB program staff identified contacts across the world working on women's transportation security issues to share their stories via video. Participants received video instructions and interview questions and arranged local filming. Responses covered efforts to document harassment, lewd behavior, and violence; create awareness of the issue with decisionmakers; and advance security initiatives.

FHWA helped to compile the interviews and produce the 27-minute video with the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Commission's videographer, Mark Johnson. The video includes content from Australia, Europe, India, the Philippines, South America, and the United States representing academics, nonprofits, national governments, cities, and international organizations. The concluding call to action for all transportation practitioners and young adults contemplating a career in transportation is to help women reach their potential by not limiting their travel choices because of fear. The video is available at

Framing the Future

USDOT participants took turns staffing an information booth during the conference. The resounding sentiment was that it was a pleasure to network with students and young professionals who came to visit the booth. It provided a chance to educate them about the range of career opportunities and academic pathways to enter and to thrive in a transportation career.

Increasing the number of women in the transportation workforce in all modes and at all levels is integral in the advocacy for women's issues as transportation users. Women's voices must help frame the future of the U.S. transportation system through greater awareness and understanding regarding women's travel behaviors, safety and health considerations, technology, engineering and infrastructure impacts, and policies addressing gender in transportation.


Eileen Ryder speaks at the 6th International Conference on Women's Issues in Transportation.


Asha Weinstein Agrawal, PhD, the director of education for the Mineta Transportation Institute and the conference's co-chair, says, "Whether it is through scooters, electric bikes, automated vehicles, microtransit, or other mobility on demand services, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that the mobility of the future will, out of the gate, meet the needs of women."

Shari Schaftlein is the director of FHWA's Office of Human Environment. She has 34 years of public service spanning Tribal, State, and Federal governments and nonprofits. She has held leadership positions in the FHWA Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty for the past 16 years.

Jasmy Methipara is a research analyst in FHWA's Office of Transportation Policy Studies. She is leading research efforts that use data in innovative ways to identify and analyze transportation policy issues. She has a master of science in engineering from the University of Maryland.

For more information, see or contact Shari Schaftlein at 202–366–5570 or