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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

Spectator by Seema Goswami: Got a ticket to ride

But should it be free, if you are a woman travelling in the national capital?

brunch Updated: Jun 15, 2019 22:40 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times
The biggest problem right now for women who use the Metro network is last-mile connectivity
The biggest problem right now for women who use the Metro network is last-mile connectivity(Getty images)
         

As I write this, every single TV channel is discussing just one thing. Arvind Kejriwal’s announcement that the AAP government in Delhi would, in a matter of months, make travel on the Metro and state transport buses free for all women in the capital. Women will now ride for free and the loss will be made up by the state government, which will pay for this subsidy. This, Kejriwal announced, was being done so that women are more safe and secure on public transport.

There are many, many things wrong with this scheme. For starters, it makes no sense to make travel free for all women, no matter what their income levels, while withholding this perk from men who are economically worse off (Kejriwal did say the scheme was optional; but honestly, do you see many women refusing to avail of this facility if it is, in fact, available?). So, an income cut-off would make more sense, so that only those who actually need this subsidy get it – and that should include men.

An income cut-off would make more sense, so that only those who actually need this subsidy get it – and that should include men!

Two, getting a free ride doesn’t equal getting a safe ride; even if the number of female riders increases exponentially, women will still be travelling in an environment where they are outnumbered by men and their wandering hands. Then, there is the problem of overcrowding; more and more women will avail of the scheme, increasing the load on a public transport system that is already near breaking point because of lack of capacity and excess demand.

I suspect that Mr Kejriwal is well aware of all these problems, but doesn’t really care because he knows that the scheme will never reach fruition anyway. The Metro system, for instance, is run in partnership with the Central government, which will never agree to it.

But I guess the AAP leader believes that there is no harm in selling this dream to women in the capital, even though he knows it’s destined to be dashed. That way he can claim victim status, complain yet again how nobody allows him to do any work, and if he is feeling particularly perky, even sit on a dharna to showcase his angst for TV cameras.

On the off-chance, though, that the AAP leader is actually serious about making Delhi safe for women and is willing to spend around 700-1,000 crores (which is what the scheme to make bus and Metro rides free would cost) to make that happen, here are just a few of the measures that he can implement.

 Let’s start with the Metro, just like Mr Kejriwal. The biggest problem right now for women who use the Metro network is last-mile connectivity. They may have a safe, secure and comfortable ride on the Metro, but it doesn’t deposit them to their doorsteps,

either at office or home. For that they have take a two-wheeler, a rickshaw, or simply walk. This is where these funds can come in useful. Set up a network of rickshaws or scooters that do the run from Metro stations across the city to the destinations of passengers. Make sure that at least 50 per cent of them are driven by women, so that ladies feel more secure using them. And yes, make them free for all passengers if you so desire, and subsidy that cost.

 Make sure the Metro runs later into the night, which is when women really need a safe ride home. As of now, the Delhi Metro starts at 5.30am and the last drop-off is at 11.30pm. So, women who work late hours, or those who are out having a night out with friends, or even those who are on a date, don’t have the option of taking the Metro home. They have to rely on two-wheelers or cab riding services, which can often be unsafe. What would it cost to extend the working hours of the Metro so that it runs until, say 1am? And while you’re at it, to increase the numbers of women-only coaches, or even increase the number of trains available.

 Improve street lighting across the city. There is nothing more frightening than walking down a dark street at night, not sure what dangers lurk in the shadows. Installing streetlights – and making sure they work – would make a huge difference to women who have to walk home from the bus stop or Metro station.

 Hire more women as drivers and conductors in DTC buses. Make it mandatory to have women marshals in all buses and Metro coaches, and empower them to crack down on any misbehaviour against female passengers.

 And most important of all, increase the number of women constables in the city. At present, women account for just over eight per cent of the work force in the Delhi Police, which is quite abysmal by any standards. There should be a push to have at least 30, if not 50, per cent women among the police officers who patrol our streets, ride in our PCO vans, and preside over the local thanas. It is this, more than anything else, that will make the women of Delhi feel more secure.

As for those free bus and Metro rides, employ a means test, have an income cut-off, and give them to all those who need them –irrespective of gender. That is the only way for an equitable society to function.

(Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004 )

Spectator appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, June 16, 2019

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First Published: Jun 15, 2019 19:55 IST

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