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Why women have a complicated relationship with bike taxis

While bike taxis may have made short-distance travel more accessible and affordable, are they safe for women?

bike taxiDo women find bike taxis safe? (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)
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Bike taxis and their operations recently came under scanner after a 23-year-old woman from Kerala was allegedly gangraped by two persons, including a driver of Rapido, a famous bike taxi aggregator, in Bengaluru last month. Earlier this year, another woman passenger was allegedly molested by a motorbike taxi driver in Guwahati. These instances, coupled with a similar few, not just highlight the lack of safety of women in public transport and spaces but have also, particularly, made the relationship between bike taxis — a relatively new phenomenon in the country — and women quite complex. Before we delve deeper into the same, let’s understand what bike taxis are.

A bike taxi, also known as a motorcycle taxi, is a licensed form of transport in some countries. It typically carries one passenger who rides a pillion behind the motorcycle operator. In the last couple of years, major cab aggregators in the country including Ola, Uber, and Rapido, in addition to several local operators, have initiated bike taxi services as a cheaper and more convenient method of transport for single passengers. “As a relatively cheap mode of transport, this ridesharing product makes transportation more affordable and accessible, particularly for last-mile connectivity and short trips where public transport doesn’t serve the transit need,” an Uber spokesperson told indianexpress.com.

While bike taxis may have made short-distance travel more accessible and affordable, they hold a different (and complex) relationship with women, as compared to men. Lack of women riders, the close proximity between the rider and the passengers during the rides, driving speed, etc continue to be some factors restricting women from availing these services.

To understand the same, we reached out to several women who shared why they were hesitant to book a bike taxi as an alternative to a regular cab. “Safety reasons and comfort are the two main reasons I don’t prefer bike taxis,” Nandita Mudgal, a 22-year-old resident from Ahmedabad said, adding that she finds it hard to trust the driver and is uncomfortable with the proximity.

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She added that one can’t guess if the rider is the rash driver. “In a cab, there’s still a sense of safety,” she added.

Echoing similar sentiments, Shubhangi Rajoria, a 22-year-old resident from Mandsor said she would “never prefer bike taxis over a regular cab” owing to her safety. “If we know the area and are familiar with the city, then one might still think of booking a bike taxi, but other than that, we would prefer regular cab mostly,” she added.

Women also highlighted that they have not encountered female bike taxi riders, another reason that makes them stay away from the mode of transport. “I feel, it’s not a safe enough choice for women as they may not feel comfortable sitting on a bike with a stranger unless the driver is a woman herself,” Nandani Singha, a 21-year-old resident from Silchar said.

There’s a lack of women bike taxi riders (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

The Bengaluru incident also led to many questioning the lapses in the bike taxi company’s hiring process. “Taking a proper test before hiring a driver, checking previous records, understanding his driving and making sure he’s not rash driving are some measures bike taxi companies need to take,” Mudgal said, adding that they must keep a “track on the drivers”.

A 25-year-old woman from Mumbai, added, “None of these companies do a proper background check of drivers and fail to respond adequately and immediately when contacted for help. Before this system is strengthened, women will fear such bike taxis.”

Singha emphasised keeping women bike taxi drivers as an important measure towards ensuring the safety of women passengers. While major companies like Rapido and Ola didn’t respond to related queries, an Uber Spokesperson said, “In states like Meghalaya, we have launched operations with women Uber Moto drivers on the platform and have received tremendous response. We intend to launch the service in multiple new markets given the product-market fit.”


Similarly, with concerns over the safety of women travelling in bike taxis, an electric mobility platform MetroRide, operating in Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, is planning to rope in female riders. “When we started our three-wheeler services a couple of years back, it was an exclusive women-driver platform. It was to make transport safer for women and give women an opportunity to earn a decent living. But, when we expanded, it was tough to get women from all parts so we became inclusive. However, whenever a woman books a ride, our AI algorithm prioritises matching them with women drivers and with male drivers only when the former is not available. But, in three-wheelers, the proximity is less. Now that we are launching two-wheeler services, we did our research and a lot of female passengers mentioned that though, at times, they end up using bike taxis, they are not very comfortable with it. So, our endeavour now is to hire more and more girls and women to drive so that we are able to give all the female passengers a female rider,” Girish Nagpal, CEO and Co-founder, MetroRide told indianexpress.com.

Bike taxis are, however, just a small part of the larger public transport system where women feel unsafe every time they travel. It is corroborated by research, led by the Observer Research Foundation, which indicated that almost 56 per cent of the women who used public transport reported being sexually harassed. According to another report, titled What Do Women and Girls Want from Urban Mobility?, only 9 per cent of women in Indian cities feel public transport is entirely safe.

As such, as governments, urban local bodies and transport authorities strive to make transport more accessible to women, it’s crucial they walk the extra mile to ensure their safety too.

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First published on: 06-12-2022 at 12:30 IST
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