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The Day-to-Day Nonsense of Commuting while Female

In Atlanta, everyone assumes you have a car, mostly because life here depends on having one. This Metropolitan Area is one vast sprawl and it only keeps expanding. But I’m lucky—I can get to and from work without a car. I have a few options: take public transit, bike, or call a rideshare.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system only has four subway lanes but is supplemented by decently comprehensive bus coverage. Taking public transport is doable: about thirty-five minutes total and only $2.50 per journey. So, usually my commute involves a short walk, a subway ride, a bus ride, and a short walk.

The first three steps are typically pretty uneventful. I have a short walk to the bus stop at the end of my block, followed by a fairly empty, eight-minute bus ride. I always get a seat. Then, I get to the MARTA station, where trains come every four minutes. Again, I’m always able to get a seat for my seven-minute ride.

The uncomfortable part manifests in the eight-minute walk from the subway station to City Hall. All of the following has been said to me in just the last three weeks while walking the final stretch to work. Remember, it’s not just what catcallers say, but it’s how they say it. All in one breath, like they want to reach out and touch you or lean in and smell you.

“Have a good day. You’re so beautiful.”

Yeah, I know. I don’t need you to tell me that.

“God DAMN you are sexy.”

Walk faster. Just get to work in one piece. 

“You want some of this big [reproductive organ]?”

Eek. No thank you.

So… I don’t like walking downtown and my commute turned into a short walk, a subway ride, a bus ride, and then running as fast as I could.

As an alternative, I love biking and hope to do so more often. On the weekends, I sometimes bike to Piedmont Park or down the Beltline and have a grand ol’ time. But as far as getting to work goes, bike lanes are limited downtown, the weather is unpredictable—unbearably hot and humid and always susceptible to downpour—and the patriarchy dictates that I wear tight, business professional dresses that are next to impossible to bike in without flashing someone.

I’ve made the twenty-five-minute trek a couple of times now, but it’s not the most convenient choice and I always need to bring a small towel for my sweat and accumulated humidity droplets. Plus, despite my haste on wheels, the bike hasn’t fully deterred the all-too-eager catcallers. As long as I am within earshot, creepy dudes always find a way.

So… I don’t commute by bicycle very much.

When I’m running late or don’t want to deal with the day-to-day nonsense of being a female pedestrian or cyclist, I have found solace in riding Lyft or Uber. A shared ride is usually $5.00, which isn’t great, but also isn’t too bad.

Mostly, I like that I don’t have to walk downtown or deal with Hotlanta weather. But on top of that, everyone who has driven me or has been a passenger with me has been so welcoming, kind, and full of Southern hospitality. After some time, I realized that my warm feelings towards my drivers have also been largely based on the fact that I keep getting female drivers.

It’s nice. The conversations are a lot more fulfilling and two-sided than having men yell at me from the street. I’ve had detailed conversations about how Atlanta has changed over the years (read: gentrification), home remodeling adventures, the challenges and joys of raising a toddler, the novelties of moving from Miami, and the power of letting a positive attitude carry you through life.

The amount of female energy was too noticeable for me to ignore. So I Googled it to check my assumptions. Unfortunately, Uber doesn’t publish their driver demographic information (boo). But Lyft does (yay!). 

I looked at all of the cities that I had taken a rideshare in and was able to find the following stats:

City Drivers % Female
Atlanta 46%
Boston 22%
Houston 28%
Los Angeles 23%
Miami 17%
New York City 6%
San Francisco 22%
Washington DC 21%

Good news. I wasn’t hallucinating. But what is the explanation for all of these badass female drivers in Atlanta?

To try to find some patterns using all of Lyft’s data, like the great urban planning student (read: planning nerd) that I am, I spatialized it.

Figure 1

Hmmm… I came up with nothing. There doesn’t appear to be a regional distinction and, actually, there really aren’t enough data points to categorize across all states.

Maybe it had to do with racial diversity? In a highly rudimentary way that my statistics professors would definitely not approve of, I looked for a line of best fit.

Figure 2

No dice here either. Atlanta is an outlier in a graph that may otherwise show a negative correlation between the percentage of drivers identifying with a minority group and the percentage of drivers identifying as female.

This question—why are there so many female drivers in Atlanta—could surely be answered by a number of nuanced social, economic, and political factors…but not by me right now. All I do know is that as a woman, I love riding in cars driven by women, especially compared to my other options (being harassed on the street while walking or being harassed on the street while biking, neither of which is all that appealing). I feel safer and more understood in the care of a woman who treats me as a friend, daughter, or granddaughter. Navigating a new city can be stressful enough. I might as well give my transit money to female drivers doing a good job.

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