By Taylor McGinley

Women Lead the Way in Community Mobility - A Continuing Story

September 18, 2019

CTAA’s Alex King and Taylor McGinley traveled to Irvine, Calif., to present their nine-month long project, “Women Lead the Way in Community Mobility.” They presented this at Transportation Research Board’s 6th Women’s Issues in Transportation Conference. They not only had the opportunity to share their project with participants, but also met female industry leaders from across the country.

In early January 2019, Alex and I started to put together our ideas for an abstract that we could submit to TRB for their Women’s Issues in Transportation Conference. Our idea was formed quite quickly and felt like a literal ah-ha moment. We often hear that transit is a “man’s world”, but we know that is not necessarily the case for our members. For many of our members, community mobility, and the origins of their local transportation services, was led by women. We realized that this would be a unique opportunity for us to showcase these stories, in a conference that we assumed would be mainly dominated by large-urban systems or institutions.

TRB offered new forms of participation for this conference: one could submit a traditional (generally research-based) abstract or a non-traditional abstract (shown in multi-media). We chose to do a non-traditional abstract, as we both agreed that the best way to tell a story is through photos. We set out with the goal to interview women that worked in small-urban, NEMT, rural, specialized and tribal transit agencies across the country. We sought to get a diverse geographic scope, and include a mix of various CTAA member categories. We wanted to interview these women, learn their stories and their background, and tease a quote from the conversation that we felt encapsulated that specific woman. We standardized each interview by asking the following five questions:

  1. What is your role at your agency/system?
  2. Do you think being a woman gives you a unique perspective for transit?
  3. Have there been any influential women in your life who have helped you get to where you are now?
  4. Do you have any advice for young women getting into transit?
  5. Is there anything else you’d like to bring up that we haven’t covered?

We concluded the interview by asking women to send us a photo that we could publically share and one that they liked. By the time we gave our presentation, we were able to interview a total of 14 women.

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Trends and Patterns

Through the course of our project, we identified trends and patterns that would come up in most of our conversations. All of the women we spoke to were incredibly humble; to the point that at times, it was difficult to get them to speak about their accomplishments. Everyone was incredibly proud of the work that they do, and they realized their impact on their local community, but sometimes couldn’t see the larger impact of their work in the larger community transportation narrative. All of the women really opened up to us, and told us personal stories about themselves and their families. It was truly inspiring to hear stories of how each woman started and how they grew to where they are now. We also observed that all of these women believed in the mentality of “women helping women.” Most of the people we spoke to, had supportive and uplifting female-based support networks. They took this mentality with them to their agencies and actively ensured that female voices were heard, while also encouraging diversity amongst perspectives.

Our favorite question to ask everyone was if they had advice for young women getting into transit. Neither Alex nor I studied transportation, and never expected to land in this industry, and we were incredibly inspired by the words of wisdom shared by our interviewees. Over the course of our interviews, we had received such great advice, that we felt it was unfair to not share this and included some of these tidbits in our final presentation.

The Future

As for the future of this project following its conclusion at TRB, we have big plans. In a perfect world, we’d like for this project to exist in an online interactive webpage. Our goal is to eventually have women representing all of the states and tribal nations, and ensure equal representation across our membership categories. We would also like to include more diverse positions at the agencies (i.e. – dispatchers, operation managers, fleet managers, etc.)

In terms of expanding its distribution, we’d like to see this project presented at association conferences, along with CTAA’s EXPO. In Irvine, we were able to present this project as more of a discussion and we thought that format was a good fit for the content we wanted to discuss. Participants asked questions about each woman and were able to truly engage with their stories.

At the end of our presentation, all of the participants mentioned how they personally identified with the quotes or the stories shared by the women we interviewed. Everyone saw a piece of themselves in these stories, whether it was embracing difficult challenges, needing to be 110% every day on the job, or fighting through adversity to get to where they are now. The women highlighted in this project are just a sample of the many women who work day in and day out in community transportation transforming our communities.

CTAA’s Role

CTAA is supportive of the continued work and expansion of this project. Women are forces behind the past, present, and future of community transportation, and we believe they all have important stories to tell.

If you have additional questions about the project, or would like to nominate someone for inclusion, please reach out to us at mcginley@ctaa.org and king@ctaa.org.

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.