Last year, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking launched a helpline for bus commuters to air their grievances.
"For the past few months, not a single complaint about sexual harassment either inside the bus or at a bus stop has been registered on the helpline," said OP Gupta, general manager, BEST.
He added that prompt reaction by women was very important. "Women should react the moment the realise that someone is violating their personal space. We assure that the conductor and the co-commuters will come to their help. They can also contact the BEST helpline (1800227550) in case of an emergency," he added.
BEST operates 4,700 buses in the city. According to its guidelines, if a conductor receives a complaint about an incident in the bus, he must try and resolve it. If he is unable to do so, he must seek the help of police, and if required, take the bus to a police station.
However, commuters are often dissuaded from seeking help as they find conductors unapproachable. A 2010 World Bank-sponsored study that carried out a gender assessment of Mumbai's public transport systems, found that that women felt unsafe while boarding and alighting from buses.
The study, conducted by Dalberg Global Development Advisors with 200 women commuters, stated that women found bus conductors rude and insensitive at times and hence, did not approach them for help.
Antara Ganguli -who led the Dalberg research team - wrote in a blog on the company website that women were refraining from bus travel because of "discomfort with overcrowding, and harassment from both male passengers and conductors," as well as lack of "female-friendly toilets" near bus stops. It suggested women-friendly measures, such as off-peak daily pass for women, a separate entry door for women and men and sensitising bus conductors towards women travelers.
At present, the BEST has more than 12,000 bus conductors. The undertaking conducts sensitisation workshops but given the number of conductors, not all attend them. "However, if there are complaints against a particular conductor then he is made to attend the workshop," said a BEST officer.