In a bid to encourage more women to use public transport, Delhi’s AAP government which holds 50% stake in the Delhi Metro, announced a new voluntary scheme to make subway and public bus travel free for women in the national capital.
With assembly polls due early next year, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the proposal on Saturday, June 3, saying that expenses of the free ride scheme will be borne by the Delhi government.
Kejriwal added that it won’t be imposed on anyone and women can opt to forgo the subsidy.
Members of his cabinet, including State transport minister Kailash Gahlot, are presently in talks with the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) Limited and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) to discuss various aspects of the fare-waiver, including its technical and financial feasibility, impact on women’s increased mobility, and how to offset the losses in revenue.
Sources at the DMRC told Times of India that free travel in the metro would require a technological solution. A detailed formal proposal including the cost and plan of implementation will be submitted soon.
“We’re making an effort to start this within 2-3 months,” the CM told the press conference, adding, “We’re also seeking suggestions from people, regarding implementation” at email@example.com.
Making public transport a viable and safe option for women
A study finds that of the 42 lakh people who travel by bus and 30 lakh who travel by metro, the number of women commuters is significantly less—hovering somewhere around 25%.
Despite Delhi metro extending to almost every part of the city and considerably shortening commute time, the system is evidently not conducive to female ridership, as the numbers suggest.
The reasons range from a perceived lack of safety, excessive occupancy during peak office hours and encroachment into female-only coaches by men, despite a fine of Rs 250 on violators.
Authorities are also trying to make the metro a safe space for women travellers, by deploying the CISF to patrol all platforms after sundown and quick responding teams to nab offenders.
Many countries have also introduced trains and buses exclusively for women, while several European countries like Luxembourg, France, Estonia, and the Faroe Islands have recently provided free public transport to all passengers in order to reduce the usage of private vehicles, with the aim to reduce air pollution.
While some critics have termed it as a populist measure, others have condemned it on Twitter, calling it a sexist move based on the assumption that women can’t pay for their tickets and for going against the grain of empowerment.
It is important to remember that the scheme is voluntary. Seeking to improve women’s footfall and faith in the public transport system, this step would particularly help women hailing from economically backward sections and reduce reliance on private modes of transport.
With this incentive to opt for public transport, large numbers of women will be able to cover longer distances in less time, thereby bypassing traffic jams and reducing the carbon footprint left by individual travel/private vehicles.
Transport Department officials have claimed it will be challenging to allow free travel in Metro trains. Implementation will be easier in case of DTC and the cluster of buses run by the DIMTS, they have said.
Senior officials argue that the DMRC needs to be prepared for a spurt in ridership and the additional pressure this rule may lead to. According to the Times of India, the DMRC has refused to issue an official statement on the proposed scheme.
The Delhi government and the Centre which are 50:50 equity partners in the DMRC have often been in disagreement, lately over power tariffs, fare hike and the proposed Phase IV of the Metro network. Such persisting issues cast a shadow on the plan to initiate free travel.
When asked about who will sponsor the scheme and if they have the Centre’s approval, Kejriwal said, “Initially, we had told the Centre not to increase the price of tickets, they didn’t agree. We told them we’ve 50-50 partnership, let’s give 50-50 subsidy on raised prices, they didn’t agree. Delhi government will bear the fare of what we’re going to do. We needn’t take approval for this.”
Political move before Assembly polls?
The AAP won just one seat in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, of the 40 seats it had contested across nine states, delivering a heavy jolt to the party that is seeking reelection to the Delhi Assembly next year.
The proposal to make bus and metro travel free for women follows a slew of actions directed by Kejriwal immediately after the LS polls ended, including the completion of schemes like Mohalla Clinic and the CCTV project.
Earlier commendable measures by the Delhi government include a successful reformation of government schools and inaugurating one of the country’s sewage cleaning machines.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.