An otherwise gray October day was brightened up by a few lakh streaks of pink Tuesday, with the Delhi government rolling out its free rides scheme, a move that obviated the need for women to pay fares in public buses. The city of two crore, which includes over 80 lakh women, largely embraced the decision, which had a smooth implementation owing to significantly less passenger volume on account of Bhai Dooj — a restricted holiday in government offices.
On board five such DTC buses, connecting different parts of Delhi-NCR, The Indian Express found working women, housewives and students welcoming the decision with equal enthusiasm. The scheme will cover all 5,589 public buses in the city.
Route 8A: Nehru Place to Noida Sector 37
Having made two trips since morning, conductor Ram Kumar knew the drill. As the bus made its way out of the dusty, unpaved Nehru Place Terminal, Kumar rolled out his instruction template: “Saare ladies apne pink tickets le jaayein…” Leela, who irons clothes for a living, was among the first beneficiaries of the waiver. “For someone like me, spending Rs 40 every day to travel means a lot… I am going to save over Rs 1,000 a month,” she said.
With nearly 40% occupants of the bus women, Kumar cannot afford any slip, as he is expected to share an error-free register of the gender profile of passengers to authorities when his duty ends.
Asha Tiwari, who lives in Noida, was travelling home after visiting Kalkaji Mandir with her husband and daughter. Asked if she was aware of the scheme, her husband responded: “This is not anything new. Women could travel for free in buses during Bhai Dooj and Raksha Bandhan even during Sheila ji’s time…”
But he was cut short by Asha: “Wo alag tha, ye permanent hai. Ab se roz free.”
Route 108: Nehru Vihar to Hari Nagar
Sushma Batra (57) is not a regular bus commuter and was delighted when, during an uncharacteristic bus journey Tuesday, she heard for the first time that bus rides would henceforth be free for women.
“This is a very big step. It will be very helpful for poor women who travel to work and young students. It’s not necessary that one has to rejoice only about things that benefit oneself,” she said.
Deepmala (25) completed her MA from Delhi University this year and would travel one-and-a-half hours from her home in Palam every day for classes. “I had a student bus pass which cost me Rs 500 every semester, but there were students who would come infrequently to class because of the travel strain. I think attendance in classes can definitely improve with this,” she said.
But Khushboo (17) was wary of the step being viewed as “differentiating between girls and boys”. “I think it will benefit women very much… But I feel a step that levels it out for everyone would have been better,” she said.
Route 34: Mehrauli to Noida Sector 32
Kailash Chopra (76) boarded the bus around 3.30 pm to return home to Noida. As she carefully made her way to the front seat reserved for senior citizens, no one asked her for a ticket. “We’ve been hearing women will be able to travel for free in Metro and buses, but I didn’t know it started today,” Chopra, who had gone to her brother’s place for Bhai Dooj, said.
The biggest support for the move came from Mohd Ikhlaq (15), whose mother works as a domestic help. “I think this is a good step for safety of women. Many times, women don’t have money, so they walk to places even at night. If buses are free, they will take them,” he said.
Route 610: RK Puram to Wazirpur
As they waited for the bus, Asha Sharma (25) and Rekha Kumari (24) said that while they appreciated the move, crowding was an issue that needed to be addressed. “When we try to get in or out, the men rush and push us. Appointing marshals should help,” said Kumari. A 27-year-old said: “If they want more women to take buses, they need to ensure safety. Free rides need to be coupled with better services.”
Route 319: Shahdara to Noida Sector 32
At 4.30 pm, the DTC bus was bustling with people out to celebrate Bhai Dooj. At East Delhi’s Hasanpur Depot, a group of women and children hopped on and as one of them tried to pay, the conductor handed them a ‘pink ticket’. “Aunty ji, paise nahi dene hain aapko. Mahilayon ke liye free hai,” said the conductor.
The scheme was the source of an excited conversation on the front row seats reserved for women. “This will benefit all of us. We can travel for free, but more importantly, we can travel safely,” said Rekha Devi (32).
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