Women-friendly transportation services go into top drive in the city

Roads in the city get a dash of pink as the Government goes into overdrive by launching a series of measures to try and make available safe transportation for women.

She Taxis, Kudumbashree Travels, Pink Autos… She Taxis, an initiative of the Department of Social Justice, set the wheels of change into motion. Kudumbashree Travels of the Kudumbashree Mission soon followed. The recent addition is Pink Autos, spearheaded by the city police.

Bringing cheer to scores of women commuters who find it difficult to navigate the roads, especially after sunset, the initiatives are meant to ensure a woman’s safety and empower her. Kudumbashree Travels has already vroomed to a terrific start.

“The response has been overwhelming,” says Geetha Philip, District Mission Coordinator, Kudumbashree. The initiative launched on November 26 has got 238 calls as of December 3. “It is in the pilot phase and barring some initial hiccups, we are positive about the scheme making a difference. In fact, we are now getting enquiries from women who want the service on a daily basis, especially to reach railway stations or their offices,” she adds.

The seven drivers behind the wheels of the Nano cars are Renjini V., Valsala M., Seema M., Bindu S., Sujina N., Sasikala Thankachi and Suma L., all of whom have been actively involved with Kudumbashree activities. Dressed in pink salwar suits, sporting an ID card and their hair put up in a bun, these women are confidence personified.

Meanwhile, it is too early to pronounce a verdict on the Pink autos, which was launched on Monday. Some police officials, men and women, we met at East Fort were in the dark about the Pink autos. Also, less than 10 calls have been received till Wednesday afternoon. . “That is because we had a soft launch, without much publicity. But we are hopeful it will pick up in the coming days,” says Bijoy P., Assistant Commissioner, Police Control Room.

These autos fall under three police stations limits – at Thampanoor, Fort and Medical College. The drivers were chosen after a screening process that began nearly six months ago. From the 1,500-odd applications received, only those with no criminal records or police cases were included in the scheme. “However, those who have not applied have also been selected, on the basis of their good track record. In fact, we are still getting applications from drivers who want to be part of it. There will be weekly reviews by the police stations concerned and we will add more autos to the scheme only after assessing the response to the initiative,” Bijoy adds.

The autos, besides sporting special stickers announcing their status as women-friendly autos, both in Malayalam and English, have been numbered 1 to 150, with 1 to 60 in Thampanoor, 61 to 120 under Fort police station limit and the rest in Medical College area.

“It is definitely a good initiative. Eleven drivers from our stand are part of the project,” says A. Anilkumar, an auto driver at Thampanoor, even as another driver from the stand, Sasidharan Nair gets a call to ferry a passenger from Kunjalumoodu to Maruthoorkadavu.

The drivers were given awareness classes and are expected to follow certain guidelines. “Being the driver of a Pink Auto makes us more committed towards women’s safety,” says Sathikumaran Nair who has been an auto driver for the last 32 years.

There are no doubts for the women drivers of the Nano cars. Renjini, hailing from Niramankara, maintains the scheme is one of the best options for women empowerment. “There is no use sitting at home. Women should never miss out on any opportunity that can help us support ourselves and our family,” says Renjini. She has started getting enquiries from women who are in need of transportation.

For Sasikala Thankachi, a housewife from Poojappura, what came handy was the driving classes given by her husband, Venu, who runs a workshop. “There is nothing better than standing on our own feet,” she says. She has already got a 28-day booking from a client near her house to commute to Ulloor daily. “Then there are aged people who take our cab to go to temples or hospitals. Since we also help them to move around, they are happy,” she adds.

Valsala M., from Pallimukku, has the support of her husband, Jagannathan, who works in Thalassery. “He knows that his income alone won’t support our family, especially after our elder daughter’s marriage. Also, though I worked for a year under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, we couldn’t save much,” she says.

Besides transporting women who are travelling alone, the cabs are also hired by women who travel with family members, say husband and kids. They charge Rs. 100 per five km and Rs. 9 for every additional kilometer. Waiting charge is Rs. 50 per hour. Pink Autos charge the same rates as other auto rickshaws.

Meanwhile, one cab of Kudumbashree Travels will be set aside for the International Film Festival of Kerala, beginning on December 6. Also, drivers of Pink Autos have been directed to be around the theatres during the week-long festival.

Not all the players involved are happy about the schemes. There are murmurs of resentment and dissent. For instance, some auto drivers feel that there are lapses in the selection procedure, some point out that trade unions were not consulted and so on.

But the police officials stress that three meetings were held with the leaders of various trade unions. “There are 60,000 autos in the city and it is not possible to include all. In our opinion, all auto rickshaws should be women-friendly. We are not expecting it to be a success overnight,” a police official said.

But as of now, many women in the city hope this is one drive that will have many takers.

Dial Kudumbashree Travels: 0471-2772200

Time: 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Pink Autos: Police control room (100) or Women’s Helpline (1091) from your mobile phone or landline connection

Time: 24 hours