From a potential rise in the share of women in the total workforce to balancing the skewed public sector spending on travel — urban mobility experts see many positives in the Delhi government’s proposal to offer free rides to women in buses and the Metro.
Pravesh Biyani, a faculty with IIIT-Delhi, said the disproportionate spending on public transit for the affluent by focusing on building more roads, flyovers and parking lots needs to be corrected by investing in making journeys taken by the poor smooth and affordable.
“But just offering free rides is not enough. There has to be a systemic improvement in public transport coupled with cheap tickets for everyone. The proportion of income that a poor person has to spend on travelling alone is huge, and it is a great step towards easing their burden,” Biyani said.
Jasmine Shah, vice-chairman of the Dialogue and Development Commission of Delhi (DDC), pointed out how participation of female workforce stands at a measly 11.4% in Delhi, against the national average of 26%.
“The participation of women in the overall workforce has been steadily declining over the years. Our hard policies need to be oriented towards addressing the issue of economic empowerment of women,” Shah said.
According to a Deloitte report titled ‘Empowering Women and Girls in India’, the female labour force participation was 36.7% in 2005, and it dropped steadily over the last decade. Factors include lack of access to quality education and a digital divide, states the report.
Sewa Ram, Professor of Transport Planning at the School of Planning and Architecture, welcomed the move, saying increased mobility will be a clear advantage. The policy will work especially well for women from the lower strata as the area to which they can travel to work safely will increase, he said.
“The government must also spend on increasing security in these modes of transportation. A major concern is peak hours and odd hours when men outnumber women on public transport. It will not affect congestion on roads as the segment that drives will not switch to the Metro. What the government now needs to do is make sure that last-mile connectivity is addressed. For a lot of women, getting to the nearest bus stop or Metro station is a task. The government can take up one area and work on door-to-door mobility as a model,” he said.
Geetam Tiwari, Professor at the Transport Engineering department at IIT-Delhi, said that while the idea was good, the government needs to work on funds for the proposal. “DTC has been running into heavy losses, so how will the government foot the bill? Several countries have models where a certain section of people, senior citizens and students, for example, are exempt from paying for public transportation. In Nordic countries, people get passes as soon as they turn 60 or 65,” she said.
Shah, however, said that funding won’t be a problem for a budget surplus state like Delhi.
Women hail move
The move was also met with enthusiasm from women who travel long distances to work every day. Meeta Kanaujia, who works in the real estate in Noida’s Sector 10, said: “None of us stand to lose anything if this plan is implemented. I’ll end up saving a lot of money as I often take the Metro.”
Sunita, a domestic help working in Mayur Vihar, said free bus and Metro services would increase employment opportunities as she wouldn’t have to think twice before taking up work in a relatively distant location. “And we will hopefully save a little extra every month,” she said.
However, 23-year-old Rozi Dixit said the move might lead to overcrowding in Metros. “The Metro I take from Gurgaon is already cramped. If this is implemented, many women will just come in for the AC,” she said.